Japan’s ruling camp passed controversial security bills during a House of Councillors panel session Thursday despite strong protests from opposition lawmakers and voters, paving the way for enactment of the legislation that could for the first time since World War II enable Japanese troops to fight overseas.
After hours of struggling with the ruling camp, opposition lawmakers failed to block the bills as the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner, the Komeito party, swiftly put the bills to a vote and had them approved by a majority amid chaos.
With the passage of the bills by the upper house panel, the stage shifted to an upper house plenary session for a final vote. To delay the voting, the opposition camp submitted two censure motions, including one against Defense Minister Gen Nakatani, both of which were rejected by the ruling camp’s majority.
The plenary session commenced late in the evening with an opposition censure motion against Masaharu Nakagawa, chair of the upper house’s committee on rules and administration, over his decision to open the session.
Also Thursday evening, the largest opposition Democratic Party of Japan and four other opposition parties agreed to jointly file a no-confidence motion in the House of Representatives against the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The five parties’ leaders will meet Friday morning to discuss how to deal with the security bills.
Three smaller parties supported the bills based on their agreement with the ruling bloc earlier this week to ensure through Cabinet approval a greater role for the Diet in approving Japanese Self-Defense Forces dispatches overseas as a way to put restraints on SDF operations.
As part of last-ditch efforts to delay the vote at the special upper house panel meeting on the security legislation, the DPJ filed a no-confidence motion against Yoshitada Konoike, the LDP member who chairs the special committee. The motion was rejected on Thursday afternoon.
Soon after the chair returned to his seat, opposition lawmakers rushed forward and surrounded him in protest. No final question-and-answer session on the bills was conducted and they were put to a vote amid commotion.
Designed to expand the scope of SDF operations overseas for a more robust alliance with the United States, the legislation would enable Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense, or coming to the aid of the United States and other friendly nations under armed attack, even if Japan itself is not attacked.
Advocates say the bills are needed to deal with an increasingly severe security environment facing Japan such as China’s rising military assertiveness. They also argue that even if the legislation is enacted, the exercise of collective self-defense will be limited and there will still be constraints on SDF operations.
But critics argue that the major security policy shift from the country’s postwar exclusively defense-oriented posture would violate Japan’s war-renouncing Constitution and possibly drag Japan into U.S.-led wars around the world.
Following passage of the bills by the upper house panel, former Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa of the DPJ took issue with the “hasty” voting, saying, “This is a national shame.”
While opposition lawmakers urged the government to be more forthcoming in its explanation of the bills and called for further debate, Konoike told reporters afterward, “Putting the bills to a vote in that manner was not ideal but I felt there had been sufficient debate. I decided it was time to come to a conclusion in the upper house.”
After the bills cleared the upper house panel, Tsutomu Sato, chairman of the LDP’s Diet Affairs Committee, told reporters the LDP had no plans to resort to the Diet’s “60-day rule.” Given the LDP-Komeito coalition’s dominance in the lower house, a second vote in the chamber could pass the bills into law with a two-thirds majority if the upper chamber fails to put them to a vote within 60 days of their passage by the lower house under the rule.
The government and ruling camp want to pass the bills in the upper house plenary session by Friday at the latest given the five-day holiday period starting Saturday, to avoid protests spilling over into the holidays, coalition lawmakers said.
Despite the delaying tactics of opposition lawmakers and street protesters, it appears certain that the LDP-Komeito coalition will enact the legislation as it holds a majority in both chambers of parliament. The ruling camp voted the bills through the lower house in July amid an opposition walkout.
Outside the Diet building, people braved the rain to protest. Thousands of protesters including students have been surrounding the Diet over the past few days.
“I only feel anger at the government’s posture in forcing the passage (of the bills) without listening to the people who are opposed,” said 29-year-old Ken Shimamura, a resident of Tokyo.
A small group of people gathered in front of Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station to express their support for the bills. Another rally by proponents was staged in front of the prime minister’s office, with organizers saying attendees totaled about 350.
The security legislation is a sensitive and divisive issue among the public. A recent poll by national broadcaster NHK found that 45 percent opposed the government and ruling camp’s policy to have the legislation enacted during the current parliamentary session running through Sept. 27, while 19 percent said they were in favor.
If enacted, the new legislation will put into effect a landmark Cabinet decision in July last year that reinterpreted the war-renouncing Constitution to allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense.
Previously, successive governments had interpreted the country’s supreme law to mean that Japan has the right to collective self-defense but cannot exercise it.
The set of bills includes revisions to 10 existing security-related laws. A permanent law would also be created to allow the SDF to provide logistical support to foreign militaries in international peacekeeping activities.
Abe has admitted that the legislation has not gained sufficient support from the public but remains keen to have the bills passed during the current parliamentary session, citing the need to address the changing security environment such as China’s increasing military assertiveness and North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats.