Debate over the security bills to overhaul Japan’s postwar defense policies kicked off in the Upper House on Monday, with enactment of the unpopular proposals almost guaranteed even if all of the opposition parties band together to bloc its passage.
During a plenary session to begin deliberations on the bills, which would expand the scope of the Self-Defense Forces’ missions overseas, the largest opposition Democratic Party of Japan said it will try to abolish the legislation.
Chances of blocking the two bills appear slim, however.
Even if the Upper House fails to vote on the bills within 60 days after they were passed by the Lower House, they will be sent back to the lower chamber, which can enact them with a two-thirds majority vote. Given that the ruling camp controls more than two-thirds of the Lower House, the bills will likely be enacted by mid-September at the latest.
But resorting to the 60-day rule would likely further damage public support for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet.
Abe appears determined to enact the bills by Sept. 27, the end of the current Diet session, arguing that restrictions on the SDF’s operations must be loosened to protect the lives of Japanese citizens given the changing security environment in the region.
“The government has the responsibility to assume every possible situation and to prepare seamless measures. For that reason, the security legislation is necessary,” Abe said during the Upper House plenary session, pledging once again to make efforts to gain the public’s understanding.
He also said the proposed legislation would elevate Japan’s deterrent power and could reduce the risk of Japan becoming a target of armed attack.
Polls have shown that the majority of the public is against passing the security bills this Diet session because the government and the ruling bloc have not sufficiently explained why the proposed changes — such as allowing Japan to use force overseas for the first time in postwar history — are needed.
Given the unpopularity of the bills, Abe recently made several TV appearances to try to win over popular opinion, but his efforts have yet to bear fruit.
Public opinion surveys have shown that support for the Abe Cabinet is plummeting, due mainly to the bills, which the ruling bloc rammed through the Lower House earlier this month despite strong protests from the opposition camp and the public.
Recent surveys showed that the Cabinet’s approval rating fell to around 40 percent, the lowest since he took office for the second time in December 2012.
“What the public wants is not (for opposition parties to submit) alternative bills, but to abolish the legislation,” Toshimi Kitazawa, a Democratic Party of Japan member and former Defense Minister, said at the plenary session.
Full-fledged debate over the bills is schedule to start Tuesday at a special committee in the Upper House comprising all parliamentary groups.
The security bills would loosen a number of restrictions on the SDF’s operations overseas, including a ban on exercising the right of collective self-defense, or coming to the aid of a friendly nation under attack even when Japan itself in not under attack.
The government had long maintained that the use of the right was banned under the pacifist Constitution. The Abe administration reinterpreted the charter last July to lift this self-imposed ban.
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