The ruling bloc tried to clear a key hurdle to enact its contentious security legislation at the Upper House on Wednesday night, but the move was met with vehement protests from opposition lawmakers and thousands of angry demonstrators who gathered in a rally around the Diet building.
The ruling bloc of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito failed to start a session of the Upper House special committee on the legislation Wednesday night. Any developments over the vote were to continue into Thursday.
If passed, the bills will be sent to a plenary session scheduled for Thursday evening, where they will be enacted.
But the opposition parties have launched an all-out effort to obstruct the procedure and delay the passage of the legislation as long as possible. If they succeed at prolonging the session, the expected passage of the bills could drag into early Friday morning.
By doing so, the opposition parties hope a last-minute stand will help them garner support from voters ahead of the Upper House election planned for next summer.
According to polling by media outlets, more than 60 percent of voters are opposed to the bills, which they fear could mark a departure from Japan’s postwar pacifism.
On Wednesday night numerous protesters occupied streets around the Diet building in one of the country’s largest political rallies of citizens in recent years.
Inside the Diet building, dozens of opposition lawmakers occupied the corridor before the chamber’s committee room and repeatedly tried to block entry of the committee chairman and LDP lawmaker Yoshitada Konoike.
“Many of you are raising your voices around the Diet. It has given us, lawmakers who are hanging on inside the Diet, courage,” said Kiyomi Tsujimoto, a Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker who spoke to the crowd through a loudspeaker on a street facing the Diet building.
Abe’s ruling camp is determined to enact the bills by Friday night at the latest.
By passing the bills, his support rate in media polls is expected to fall considerably.
How much popularity he can recover before next summer’s Upper House election has become a focus of attention among political observers.
If passed, the legislation will lift various legal restrictions on the sort of operations the Self-Defense Forces can take part in and allow Japan to use the right of collective self-defense — long considered taboo and unconstitutional during the postwar era.
The ruling bloc has tried to win over minor parties to water down the impression that it is ignoring public opposition and bulldozing the bills into law.
Earlier Wednesday, the ruling camp managed to win support from three minor opposition groups — Jisedai no To (Party for Future Generations), the Assembly to Energize Japan, and Shinto Kaikaku (New Renaissance Party) — by promising to adopt an additional resolution to the bills.
The addendum would oblige the government to obtain Diet approval before using the right of collective self-defense in a case where there is no clear danger that Japan could be directly attacked by an enemy country.
The three largest opposition parties — the Democratic Party of Japan, Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party) and the Japanese Communist Party — and two other opposition forces met Wednesday to discuss tactics on how to block the legislation, including the possibility of submitting a no-confidence motion in the Lower House against Abe’s Cabinet.
Other tactics include submitting a censure motion against each member of Abe’s Cabinet to the Upper House, a filibuster, or employing the “ox-walk” delaying stratagem whereby lawmakers slowly walk to the ballot box. The opposition camp performed the ox-walk tactic in 1992 over a bill to allow the SDF to participate in peacekeeping missions, taking 13 hours to cast their ballots.
If the security bills clear the Diet, it will mark a major turning point in Japan’s security policy.
The legislation not only allows Japan for the first time in its postwar history the right to exercise collective self-defense and go to the aid of an ally under armed attack, but it also loosens the tight limits on weapons SDF personnel can use during peace-keeping operations.