University of California, Los Angeles

An Emergency Power amendment for the Japanese constitution

Ever since 1955, the Liberal Democratic Party has pursued to shape the Japanese Constitution in some sort of ways to boost the strength of its country. Shinzo Abe, who is the prime minister of Japan has made announcement of his ambition to achieve constitutional amendment before 2020. Japanese constitution is the world’s oldest to go along without any amendments and it has certainly been successful in terms of foreign relationships, protection of human rights, and security of nation. It is difficult to generate an amendment and finalize it as an official constitutional amendment because if the country has functioning successfully for such a long time, there is no incentive to add or change an amendment to such a stable constitution. The proposal that Abe administration came up with was called, “An Emergency Power Amendment.” This amendment provides a privilege for the cabinet to declare an emergency anytime they want as long as it receives permission by the prime minister. This amendment supports the cabinet and prime minister to not only become dominant over people in Japan, but it draws a limit on voice of citizens. The proposal by Liberal Democratic Party, “An Emergency Power Amendment” has a huge potential to destroy Japan’s democracy because with the cabinet having the authority to either call an emergency or not as well as forcing people to follow their orders, it fails to protect the fundamental human rights by overpowering the system and restricting people’s freedom.

Comparing to how Japan concluded to call an emergency in the past from an Emergency Power Amendment, it is different in terms of the Diet involvement when in the process of declaring an emergency. The diet, the only piece of government that was chosen to represent the ordinary people and it is also the main representation of citizens. “The emperor could issue ordinance that had the force and effect of law but needed to be confirmed by the diet.” Back in the period of the Meiji Constitution in Japan, the leader was responsible on enforcing the order and passing the law at his convenient, but the approval by the Diet was required in order to issue any imperial orders. As opposed to an Emergency Power Amendment that was proposed by Abe, the negotiation only occurs between the cabinet and upper or lower house in the government. The cabinet has power to reject the request from the Diet and communicate with the house to decide whether to approve or not. Therefore, the emergency power is handed only to the cabinet and the government. The Liberal Democratic Party is criticizing its own concept of democracy if not destroying its identity to protect natural rights of people under this amendment. It will do nothing, but reducing the degree of human rights and weakening the value of representation from the people. If an Emergency Power Amendment becomes a real amendment, it will be an obstacle for Liberal Democratic Party for maintaining the peace and security for the stabilized constitution.

Adding an Emergency Power Amendment to the constitution is an opposing behavior to democratic institution and a supportive behavior for authoritarian model. Not only does the amendment deny to include the Diet as decision maker and provides the cabinet extra authority over emergency power, but looking back at leaders such as Hitler who passed Emergency Clause have been the front face of dictatorship. Historically, use of emergency power which boosts the power of government over people threatened the base of democracy and harmed the freedom of individuals. Democracy in Rome came to an end when the “Dictator” attempted to behave under the system of emergency provisions. Bringing in any piece of authoritarian form to democracy countries is the biggest threat and is the last thing they want for democratic sphere. Analyzing what happened internationally in the past after issuing the emergency rule as well as understanding the importance of human rights to stabilize the country under democratic institutions, it should warn Abe’s administration to avoid the proposal and send a signal of danger for the fundamental rights. Based on the norms of democracy, any behavior that attempts to restrict the citizen’s rights and to produce more orders from the government is hazardous to the condition under democracy. As long as the Diet, representation of people is being associated in the process of allowing amendments and in power to accept or reject the order, then there is no harm under the democracy. It becomes problematic when the cabinet holds excessive control on certain cases and people are limited to what they can do because with its dominance, there is possibility of replacing democracy to the form of authoritarian.

There are three main reasons why an Emergency Power Amendment should not be named as first amendment in the Japanese Constitution. First, based on how successful Japan has been ever since WW2 in almost every aspect is fabulous and there shouldn’t be any motivation for any constitutional change for Abe. Second, looking back in the history and how emergency clauses impacted different countries should indicate for Abe to eliminate the proposal. Lastly, the amendment introduces the form of authoritarian by giving the cabinet more control over people. Government domination as well as limitation on human rights are obstacles in order to improve democratic condition within Japan.


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    March 15, 2018 at 3:34 am

    Thank you for bringing this issue to this forum! This blog post did an excellent job in elaborating three main reasons regarding why Japan should not propose this Emergence Power Amendment for the sake of protecting civil rights while limiting politicians’ rights. Few if any limits are placed on actions of “Emergency Cabinet”. None of the protections that modern democracies use to limit an emergency clause are contained in the contemplated proposal. While this post focuses on the domestic consequences of this amendment, its potential harm on the international community should not be neglected. As the blog mentioned, this amendment proposes the rights of Japanese prime minister to use military force in times of emergency. However, one important implication is more uncertainty and volatility within the international community, as it is hard to define what “extreme national crisis or natural disasters” are. My position on this issue is, if there are problems in current constitution and there is no other way to deal with these shortcomings, only then should we continue debate on this new amendment.

    On a side note, since Japan owns a single-party dominant party system where Liberal Democratic Party has stayed in power mostly since 1955, I wonder how difficult it would be for Japanese Congress to thwart this amendment?

  2. Lana Frazier

    March 15, 2018 at 11:59 am

    I really like how you discussed that the implementation of an “An Emergency Power Amendment” is an example of democratic erosion. By creating an amendment like this the government is greatly infringing on the rights of Japanese citizens. They are essentially creating massive power within the government by stating that they can create an amendment when ever they want by simply declaring that it is an emergency.
    I think that you did an excellent job analyzing this new piece of legislation through the basis of how it will effect both the government and citizens in the future. With an amendment like this Japan could easily head toward an authoritarian regime. If the Prime Minister, at the time, strategically weakens the checks and balances and eliminates all opposition within the government he or she would essentially be able to control the entire government by passing any amendments in his or her interests.

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