National / Politics

Amid angry scenes, ruling parties force security bills through Lower House committee

by Reiji Yoshida and Mizuho Aoki

Staff Writers

The ruling bloc rammed two security bills through a special committee of the Lower House on Wednesday — amid a chorus of yelling opposition lawmakers — clearing a critical step toward the enactment of legislation that would expand the scope of Self-Defense Forces’ missions overseas.

During Wednesday’s session, opposition lawmakers mobbed committee chairman Yasukazu Hamada of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and tried to halt the voting procedure.

But amid the clamor, ruling lawmakers stood up to show their support for the bills, and Hamada declared that the legislation was passed.

The bills would lift a number of restrictions on the SDF’s operations, including a ban on exercising the right of collective self-defense, or the right for a country to use force to aid an ally under attack even when not under attack itself.

Article 9 of the pacifist postwar Constitution was long considered to prohibit exercising the right. The Abe administration amended the government’s official interpretation of the text, and then submitted the security bills to the Diet, but many experts have argued the reinterpretation is unconstitutional.

The bills are now expected to clear the lower chamber’s plenary session on Thursday and to be sent immediately to the Upper House.

That would leave more than 60 days before the current Diet session ends on Sept. 27, a period of time that all but guarantees enactment. If the Upper House fails to vote on a bill within 60 days of its passage by the lower chamber, it can be sent back to the Lower House and enacted there if more than two-thirds of attending members of the lower chamber agree.

The ruling camp of the LDP and Komeito currently holds a more than two-thirds majority in the Lower House, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appears determined to enact the bills by the end of the current Diet session.

Wednesday’s row at the Diet, however, may mark a turning point for the Abe administration. It enjoyed generally strong opinion polls following its inauguration in December 2012, but surveys show a majority of voters oppose the enactment of the security bills and that support is dwindling.

A survey by Asahi Shimbun, conducted on Saturday and Sunday, found a 42 percent disapproval rate for the Cabinet. The figure is significant because it exceeds the approval rating for the first time since November.

Senior officials apparently fear the planned reactivation of the Sendai reactor in Kagoshima Prefecture could further eat away at the Cabinet’s ratings.

Kyushu Electric Power Co. plans to restart the Sendai reactor as early as Aug. 10, making it the first reactor to be reactivated on a long-term basis following the triple meltdown at Tepco’s Fukushima No. 1 plant in 2011. The Cabinet has long pushed for reactivation of the nuclear reactors halted in the wake of the nuclear disaster.

On Wednesday, the three largest opposition parties — the Democratic Party of Japan, Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party) and the Japanese Communist Party — opposed the ruling camp’s proposal to have a vote on the government-sponsored security bills.

But during Wednesday’s Diet session, Abe pointed out that the bills have already been deliberated for as many as 113 hours and urged a swift conclusion.

He also noted that many voters opposed the controversial revision of the Japan-U.S. security treaty in 1960 and enactment of a bill in 1992 to allow the SDF to participate in U.N.-led peacekeeping operations, but that now a majority of people support them.

“We will press ahead while deeply and silently considering the mission given to us,” Abe told Wednesday’s Lower House session.

Meanwhile, Ishin no To and the DPJ’s counterproposals to the government’s bills were voted down.

Yorihisa Matsuno, head of Ishin, slammed the ruling camp’s decision to bulldoze the bills through the committee at a time when the legislation remains poorly understood by the public.

“It was an awful forcible passage,” Matsuno said. “I can’t understand why the ruling camp was in such an hurry to take the vote on the bills.”

He added that regardless of the amount of hours lawmakers spent deliberating the bills, there is still little public comprehension of the texts and their implications.

He also criticized the ruling camp for taking the vote when there had been too little time to debate Ishin’s alternative bills.

“It’s a shame that (our bills) were voted down after just five hours of deliberations,” Matsuno said, adding that Ishin will continue talks with the ruling camp after the government’s legislation is sent to the Upper House.

DPJ leader Katsuya Okada also condemned the manner in which the passage took place.

“A vote was forcibly conducted over the bills that would drastically change security policies that are strongly suspected to be unconstitutional,”Okada told reporters at the Diet. “We protest.”

He added: “The bills should be withdrawn and we should start deliberations afresh.”