Japanese people remain divided over whether to amend the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution, but supporters of a change slightly outnumbered opponents amid concerns over North Korea and China's military buildup, a Kyodo News survey showed Saturday.
According to the mail-in survey conducted ahead of the 70th anniversary of the enforcement of the post-World War II Constitution next Wednesday, 49 percent of respondents said Article 9 needs to be revised against 47 percent opposing a change.
While Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been eager to rewrite the supreme law, including Article 9, 51 percent were against any constitutional amendments under the Abe administration, compared with 45 percent in favor.
Many people recognized the role Article 9 has played in Japan's pacifism, with 75 percent of respondents saying the clause has enabled Japan to stay away from using force overseas since the end of World War II in 1945.
The survey randomly selected 3,000 people aged 18 and older nationwide, and questionnaires were sent to them by mail on March 8. Of those, 2,055 sent back their answers by April 14, with valid responses obtained from 1,944 of them.
The current Constitution has never been revised since it went into effect in 1947, nor has a bid been made to initiate a formal amendment process, partly because of the high hurdle in proposing an amendment in parliament before it can be put to a referendum.
But a first-ever revision of the Constitution, which conservatives often decry as a product of the U.S.-led occupation authorities after Japan's defeat in World War II, has become a more realistic prospect given the Abe administration's strength in the Diet.
Following electoral victories over several years, Abe's Liberal Democratic Party, its junior coalition ally Komeito and other parties supportive of change now have a two-thirds majority in both house of parliament, the threshold for making an amendment proposal.
Among those in favor of amending Article 9, the largest group, at 66 percent, cited "the changing security environment surrounding Japan, such as North Korea's nuclear and missile programs as well as China's military expansion."
The next largest group at 20 percent said a change is needed to sort out what they perceive as a contradiction between the provision and the existence of the Self-Defense Forces.
Article 9 stipulates that the Japanese people "forever renounce war" and that "land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained." The government says the article does not prohibit the country from maintaining its ability to defend itself and thus allows Japan to possess defense forces.
Ten percent called for a revision of Article 9 to enable the SDF to engage in international activities more actively, while 3 percent said such a revision is needed to strengthen the security alliance with the United States.
Asked how the article should be changed, 39 percent said the existence of the SDF should be stipulated, followed by 24 percent who proposed adding a clause to restrict the SDF's international activities and 16 percent who said the SDF should be clearly stated as being a military force.
On the overall need to revise the Constitution in the future, 60 percent said it was "necessary" or "somewhat necessary." The most popular reason was because its articles and contents no longer fit the times. The subject deemed requiring discussion by most respondents was "Article 9 and the SDF."
Supporters of maintaining the current Constitution unchanged totaled 37 percent, with 46 percent of them citing its provision prohibiting war and keeping Japan out of conflicts, and 26 percent concerned that an amendment might lead Japan into a military buildup.
In a similar survey conducted by Kyodo News in August and September last year, 49 percent denied the need to change Article 9, compared with 45 percent who were in favor of a revision.
Parliament has resumed in-depth discussions on constitutional issues since last year, but progress has been slow as parties remain apart in their positions.