In a chaotic session rife with yelling and wrestling, the ruling bloc bulldozed two disputed security bills through a special committee in the Upper House on Thursday, taking the penultimate step toward enacting legislation that will subvert Japan’s pacifist approach to world affairs.
The bills, designed to expand the types of overseas missions that can legally be undertaken by the Self-Defense Forces without amending the Constitution, were expected to be enacted by a full session of the House of Councilors later in the evening or early Friday.
When Yoshitada Konoike, chairman of the special committee, tried to put the bills up for a vote at around 4:40 p.m., dozens of lawmakers from the opposition camp mobbed him in an attempt to stop the procedure. Lawmakers from the ruling bloc then rushed to protect him, turning the session into a mob scene.
Eventually, the ruling bloc members stood up to vote on the bills, and Konoike declared them passed.
The ruling bloc, composed of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party and Buddhist-backed Komeito, received support from the minor opposition groups Jisedai no To (Party for Future Generations), Assembly to Energize Japan, and Shinto Kaikaku (New Renaissance Party).
The opposition, led by the Democratic Party of Japan, Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party) and the Japanese Communist Party, is unlikely to prevent enactment but is putting up staunch resistance anyway in the hope of generating voter support for the Upper House election next summer.
Earlier, the DPJ-led opposition camp resorted to several tactics to delay procedures in the Diet, encouraged by growing public opposition to the legislation, sponsored by the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
According to a poll by the Asahi Shimbun on Sept. 12 and 13, 54 percent of 1,994 respondents across the country oppose the bills and 29 percent support them.
To delay the procedure as long as possible, the opposition even resorted to trapping the committee chairman in a room for hours by occupying a corridor in the building from Wednesday night to early Thursday.
“(The government) says it won’t change the exclusively defensive posture (of the SDF). But if you use force in the territory of another country when you are not under attack, it is no longer ‘exclusively defensive posture,’ ” Mizuho Fukushima, president of the Social Democratic Party, said Thursday.
The two bills are aimed at easing legal restrictions on the SDF and lifting the long-held ban on collective self-defense, or the right to use force to help an ally under armed attack, even when Japan itself is not.Use of the right, as defined under the United Nations charter, would allow Japan to expand the scope of joint operations with the U.S. military.
The government has long maintained that the use of collective defense is banned under Article 9 of the war-renouncing Constitution, which limits the use of force strictly to the defense of Japan.
The turmoil started Wednesday afternoon as the ruling bloc tried to convene a committee session at 6 p.m. to vote on the bills. This prompted the opposition to occupy the corridor in front of a room where Konoike was staying with executive members of the committee.
To initiate a vote on the security bills, the chairman needs to declare the opening of a session inside the committee room in the Upper House.
Konoike managed to escape from the room only after promising all parties at 3:30 a.m. Thursday that he would return to the room at 8:50 a.m. the same day.
But Konoike reneged on his promise and entered the committee room at around 9 a.m. This prompted the opposition camp to submit a no-confidence motion against him, which prolonged the session to around 4:40 p.m.
To block the plenary session from being scheduled later in the day, the DPJ-led opposition was expected submit a no-confidence motion against several ministers in the Cabinet.
All of the motions would eventually be voted down by the ruling camp, but the act would further delay a vote on the security bills for several hours.
The ruling bloc is determined to enact the bills before the start of a long weekend involving three consecutive national holidays.
Senior government officials fear citizens’ groups might step up their protests during the holiday if enactment is further delayed.