TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan should drop the pacifist Article 9 of its constitution and prepare to defend itself against North Korea and China, the leader of a new Buddhist-based political party said in an interview on Tuesday.
The Happiness Realization Party, formed by a religious group that says it has 10 million members and previously supported the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), could sway the results of an election that must be held by October.
"First, it is important above all to change Article 9 of the constitution," party leader Kyoko Okawa said in an interview on Tuesday in a room decorated with statues at the religion's Tokyo headquarters.
"We must make clear our right to defend ourselves."
Frustration with what he saw as government inaction following North Korea's nuclear test and rocket launch led Okawa's husband, Ryuho, the founder of the Happy Science religion, to set up the new party last month.
"North Korea fired a missile and carried out a nuclear test," But the government was so embroiled in its battle with the Democratic Party it didn't re-think national defence," Kyoko Okawa said.
The party says the religion's members will be urged to join and vote for its candidates, possibly giving the main opposition Democrats an advantage in constituencies where it is neck and neck with the LDP, analysts say.
"This could be quite a big deal," said political analyst Minoru Morita.
"Heads of religions tend to have quite a lot of influence over their members, so the LDP may lose all those votes."
The LDP is currently in alliance with New Komeito, also backed by a Buddhist group.
Happiness Realization Party officials say they hope to draw Democratic Party supporters and people who do not usually vote. They plan to field candidates in all Japan's constituencies.
"Our target is a majority, or 241 seats," the 43-year-old graduate of the elite Tokyo University said with a laugh. "But we would like to win enough seats to influence national politics."
If the results of the election are inconclusive, the party could ally itself with others that back their ideas, Okawa said.
That would be a tall order for either of Japan's two major political groups.
Though re-writing the pacifist constitution is an idea often floated by hawkish LDP lawmakers, it would be hard to gain the necessary public backing, especially when most Japanese are more concerned about the economy, which shrank at a record pace in the first quarter of this year.
Okawa says she does not see a need for Japan to go nuclear at present, but calls for development of the capability to strike North Korean bases if an attack were deemed imminent, another policy that divides the LDP.
Her party also wants a tougher line on China, she said.
"China is a big problem for Japan," she said. "I think the root of the North Korean problem lies with China. If China did not support them, North Korea would not have become so strong."
"We want to exert cultural pressure on China to become a free democracy, while being prepared for any Chinese threat," she said.
On the domestic front, the party plans to abolish both consumption tax and inheritance tax in an effort to boost flagging consumption. It aims to increase Japan's population to 300 million from the current 127 million, by boosting both the birth rate and immigration.
Ryuho Okawa, who says he is the reincarnation of Buddha, founded the Happy Science religion in 1986, in an attempt to correct what he says are flaws in Buddhist teaching.
"If you take the 'thou shalt not kill' precept too far, you cannot protect your country. Historical fact shows that weakness in Buddhism," Kyoko said. "That's why we wanted to develop Buddhist teaching."