Japan ruling party gears up to revise pacifist constitution

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TOKYO (AP) — Japan's conservative ruling party is gearing up for a new push to achieve its long-sought goal of revising the country's U.S.-drafted post-World War II constitution. Its first challenge: winning over a divided public.

Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers and other supporters rallied Friday ahead of Sunday's Constitution Day holiday, when Japan's democratic and war-renouncing charter took effect 68 years ago.

The party, led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has resumed meetings of its constitution reform panel after a 2-year recess, and this week started distributing a cartoon pamphlet to raise public awareness and drum up support.

Backers of a revision denounce the 1947 constitution as one imposed by the United States, which occupied Japan from the end of World War II until 1952. They say it's outdated and inadequate for today's society.

Amending the constitution won't be easy. It requires two-thirds approval by both houses of parliament followed by a referendum. Abe's ruling coalition controls two-thirds of the lower house and hopes to do the same in the upper house by winning elections in summer next year.

If successful, the Liberal Democrats hope to introduce a proposed revision after the elections.

Hajime Funada, head of the Liberal Democrats' team promoting constitutional revision, said it's time to begin discussing details of a proposed revision. He says the party plans to make revisions in several waves, dealing with related issues at the same time, and that he hopes to make a first round of revisions within two years.

The party has advocated revision for decades, but has had difficulty convincing the public.

Opponents have expressed concerns that the revisions will backpedal from democracy and individual rights protected by the current constitution.

A 2012 draft proposed by the Liberal Democrats promoted a conformist Japan with traditional patriarchal values, which place family units above individuals and elevate the emperor to the head of state. It says civil liberties such as freedom of speech and expression can be restricted if considered harmful to public interest.

Yasuhiro Nakasone, a 96-year-old former prime minister who has long campaigned for a revision, told Friday's rally, attended by hundreds of lawmakers and supporters, that the current constitution is "too abstract" and lacks values and principles based on Japan's own traditions.

"I would like to raise public awareness with our active discussions and earnest efforts so we can advance on a new path toward revising the constitution," he said.

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