TOKYO (Reuters) - The leader of the junior partner in Japan’s ruling coalition on Friday urged Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to focus on regaining public trust after a slide in his popularity, and said revising the pacifist constitution was not a priority for voters.
Support for Abe has plummeted to its lowest since he surged back to power in 2012 with a conservative agenda of restoring traditional values and loosening constraints on the military that centers on revising the U.S.-drafted post-war constitution.
Abe also promised to reboot the economy with his “Abenomics” recipe of hyper-easy monetary policy, spending and reforms.
But his popularity has been battered by suspicions of scandal over favoritism for a friend’s business. Many voters also feel that he and aides have grown arrogant given the ruling bloc’s huge parliamentary majorities, weak opposition and lack of strong rivals in his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
“I want him to remember our original intentions,” said Komeito party leader Natsuo Yamaguchi, recalling how the coalition struggled to regain trust after losing power for three years from 2009.
“What is vital is to make sincere efforts to respond steadily to the people’s expectations,” he told Reuters in an interview.
Abe has promised to focus on the economy, but is also sticking to his target of revising the post-war, U.S.-drafted constitution by 2020 to legitimize the military, known as the Self-Defense Forces (SDF).
Amending pacifist Article 9 is a divisive issue in Japan and would raise concerns in China and South Korea, where memories of Japan’s past military aggression run deep.
Abe’s proposal would retain the two clauses of Article 9 that renounce the right to wage war and ban maintenance of air, land and sea forces, while adding a clause legitimizing the SDF.
“People are not calling for a change in the constitution as something that hinders their livelihoods,” Yamaguchi said, adding more debate in parliament was needed.
Voters’ priorities are the economy and the social welfare system, he said.
Amendments need the approval of two-thirds of both chambers and a majority in a referendum.
The Komeito party has traditionally been cautious about revising Article 9 and Yamaguchi said there was not yet a consensus.
Although allied with the LDP in parliament, the Komeito joined with popular Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike’s newly formed Tokyo Citizens First party to win big in a July 2 Tokyo Metropolitan assembly election, handing the LDP a historic defeat.
Speculation abounds that Tokyo Citizens First will go national and provide a platform for Koike to become Japan’s first female prime minister, but Yamaguchi said the Komeito did not have a similar national level tie-up in mind.
Asked his advice for Abe, Yamaguchi said it was vital to remember that voter support for the ruling camp was less firm than it appeared, despite past election wins.
“The number of seats won can exceed true support levels. We should not be spoiled by this. The opposition Democratic Party is weak and as the flip side, we have support. But we shouldn’t depend on that,” he said.
“We got spoiled, but we shouldn’t be.”
Reporting by Linda Sieg; Editing by Robert Birsel