National / Politics

Protesters take to streets as ruling camp, opposition square off ahead of vote on SDF bills

Kyodo, Bloomberg

Japan’s ruling coalition has decided to put two security bills to a vote at a House of Representatives panel on Wednesday, paving the way for passage by the Lower House as early as Thursday, coalition lawmakers said.

The decision came despite the opposition camp’s calls for a continuation of deliberations of the government-sponsored bills, which would expand the scope of Self-Defense Forces operations overseas.

In a meeting of the Lower House special committee on security legislation, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party proposed holding a final question-and-answer session on the bills Wednesday. But the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan rejected a Wednesday vote.

“(The committee) should let go a vote on the 15th and continue questions and answers next week,” DPJ Acting President Akira Nagatsuma told the meeting.

But Akinori Eto, a senior LDP lawmaker and former defense minister, hinted the LDP and its coalition partner Komeito party will push the bills through the Lower House as planned, saying: “We cannot change course.”

Earlier Tuesday, the ruling camp held talks with the Japan Innovation Party, another opposition entity, over the latter’s counterproposals to the bills but failed to bridge the gap, LDP Vice President Masahiko Komura told reporters after the talks.

Japan Innovation Party leader Yorihisa Matsuno asked Lower House Speaker Tadamori Oshima that the special committee fully deliberate its counterproposals in parallel with the bills on Wednesday without voting.

Oshima summoned Tsutomu Sato, chairman of the LDP Diet Affairs Committee, and requested that the coalition manage Diet affairs thoroughly.

After the bills are sent to the House of Councilors, the ruling bloc hopes they will be passed and enacted into law by the end of the current Diet session, which has been extended through Sept. 27. The ruling coalition holds a majority in both chambers of the Diet.

But opposition lawmakers and constitutional scholars have criticized the bills and said the envisaged security policy shift — which could allow Japanese troops to fight abroad for the first time since the end of World War II — violate the nation’s war-renouncing Constitution. Successive governments have interpreted the Constitution to mean that Japan is barred from exercising the right to collective self-defense.

The government submitted the bills to the Diet on May 15, arguing that a changing security situation in the Asia-Pacific region propelled by China’s muscle-flexing in asserting territorial claims in the East and South China seas, as well as North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons development, are justification for the security reforms.

The legislation consists of a new permanent bill that would allow the SDF to provide logistical support to foreign militaries in international peacekeeping activities, and another comprising revisions to 10 existing security-related laws

On Tuesday morning, the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan and the Japanese Communist Party boycotted a Tuesday morning session of the Lower House special committee on the bills to protest the planned vote, which would pave the way for passage at the Lower House as early as Thursday.

Goshi Hosono, chairman of the Policy Research Committee of the DPJ, criticized the ruling camp’s move. “We will never allow a vote on July 15. We will never let the government-sponsored bills pass (the Diet),” Hosono told reporters.

Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso indicated the ruling and opposition camps have undergone sufficient deliberations before putting the bills to a vote.

The special committee “has spent more than 100 hours on the bills. Opposition parties have now asked more or less the same questions,” Aso, who doubles as finance minister, said at a news conference.

But a large segment of the public disagrees with the proposed changes. Demonstrations were held across the country over the weekend to protest the security legislation.

In Hibiya Park near the Diet, some 20,000 people gathered to hold a rally on Tuesday to protest the security bills. The demonstrators also marched around the Diet building.

On the same day, six lawyers’ groups held a protest near Tokyo’s JR Yurakucho Station, and a group of academics in Kyoto held a symposium to protest the bills. A group of lawyers in Shiga Prefecture issued a statement that the bills violate war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution.

And an Asahi newspaper survey published on Monday showed 56 percent of respondents were against the passage of the bills, with 26 percent in favor.

In a comment suggesting his reservations about a Wednesday vote, former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, who now serves as minister for regional revitalization, said he “does not have much confidence to say that the public understanding (of the bills) has been promoted,” citing recent opinion polls by news organizations.