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Japan PM says he will initiate debate on new constitution

Associated Press logo Associated Press 1/05/2017 By MARI YAMAGUCHI, Associated Press
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe makes a speech during the annual rally on revising Japan's constitution organized by ruling party lawmakers in Tokyo, Monday, May 1, 2017. Abe has pledged to initiate debate in parliament on revising the country's U.S.-drafted constitution. The democratic and pacifist charter took effect 70 years ago on May 3. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi) © The Associated Press Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe makes a speech during the annual rally on revising Japan's constitution organized by ruling party lawmakers in Tokyo, Monday, May 1, 2017. Abe has pledged to initiate debate in parliament on revising the country's U.S.-drafted constitution. The democratic and pacifist charter took effect 70 years ago on May 3. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged Monday to initiate debate in parliament on revising the country's U.S.-drafted constitution as he pushes to achieve a long-sought goal during a milestone year.

The democratic and pacifist charter took effect 70 years ago on May 3.

Abe, attending an annual rally on revising the constitution organized by ruling party lawmakers and other backers, said the time has come "to show the people, with confidence, our vision for the future of our country and what an ideal constitution should look like." Abe, who has long sought to amend the current constitution, attended the rally for the first time.

"As an overwhelming No. 1 party, we are committed to lead a realistic and concrete discussion" in parliament's constitution research council, he said. He said he will show the public how his government plans to preserve "a peaceful and affluent Japan as the country faces challenges ranging from the regional security threat to a shrinking population and workforce."

Demands for change have so far been led mainly by Abe's ruling party, rather than by the public, which has been split on the issue.

A recent poll by TBS television showed that support for a revision has dipped in recent years, while two-thirds of respondents to another recent poll by public broadcaster NHK said debate on constitutional change has been insufficient.

Abe's Liberal Democratic Party and its nationalistic supporters have advocated constitutional revisions for years. They view the 1947 constitution as the legacy of Japan's defeat in World War II and an imposition of the victor's world order and values. The charter renounces the use of force in international conflicts and limits Japan's troops to self defense, although Japan has a well-equipped modern military that works closely with the U.S.

Proposed revisions to the constitution released by the ruling party in 2012 are intended to restore traditions similar to prewar family values centered on the emperor and place the national interest before individuals' basic human rights in some cases.

The current situation in and outside Japan is seen possibly helping Abe's push for constitutional revision. His party has large majorities in both houses — a rare dominance needed for constitutional change — and the public's resistance to a revision of the pacifist constitution is apparently loosening with North Korea's growing nuclear and missile threat.

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Follow Mari Yamaguchi on Twitter at twitter.com/mariyamaguchi

Her work can be found at AP News at https://www.apnews.com/search/mari%20yamaguchi

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