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May 29, 2017

TOKYO (AP) — Poll results released Monday show that about half of Japan’s population supports a constitutional revision that would clarify the legality of the country’s military, a new approach Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is proposing as his party struggles to gain public support for a change.

Abe proposed recently that Japan in some way indicate the existence of the Self-Defense Forces, which is not spelled out in Article 9 of the constitution. The article renounces war and the use of force to settle international disputes.

He made the proposal this month in what was seen as a compromise, but opponents see it as a step to justify expanding Japan’s military capabilities, which currently have to be kept to a minimum. In the Nikkei newspaper poll, 51 percent of 1,595 respondents supported including a reference to the Self-Defense Forces in Article 9. Thirty-six percent were opposed.

Recent polls by other major media outlets also showed mixed results. Japan decided it had the right under the 1947 constitution to have a military for self-defense, but some legal experts have questioned that, though fewer people do so now.

Abe and his party have maintained the constitutionality of the Self-Defense Forces, saying every nation has the right of self-defense as allowed under the United Nations charter. Citing his party’s position, opponents have grown skeptical over Abe’s latest proposal and intention of bringing up the Self-Defense Force legality issue.

Experts say Abe’s proposal could lower a hurdle for public support and may be good enough for a symbolic first change to the constitution, which Abe said he wants enacted by 2020. Japan’s 70-year-old constitution has never been revised.

Japan’s ruling party has long advocated a more drastic revision, but the public generally supports the war-renouncing article. The party and its nationalistic supporters view the country’s postwar constitution as the legacy of Japan’s defeat in World War II and an imposition of the victor’s world order and values weighing too much on individuals’ rights.

The party-proposed revisions to the constitution released in 2012 called for upgrading the Self-Defense Forces to a full armed forces and establishing a military court.

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