With growing protests and objections by a majority of voters in opinion polls, the Japanese public’s division over a major postwar security policy change approved early Saturday is likely to remain and could further undermine confidence in the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Referring to the Diet enactment of contentious security legislation, critics say they will step up moves with academics, lawyers, students and others to “punish” Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party and its ruling coalition partner, Komeito, in a House of Councilors’ election slated for next summer.
In an bid to block the government from actually using the pair of new laws, a group of prominent constitutional scholars and legal experts plan to sue the government over the constitutionality of the laws, arguing they violate the war-renouncing Constitution.
“Mr. Abe’s high-handed behavior during and before the legislative process made voters realize the need to curb the enormous power they have given Mr. Abe and the LDP in recent national elections,” said Koichi Nakano, a professor of political science at Sophia University in Tokyo.
One such instance was a promise Abe made in an address to the U.S. Congress on April 29 — even before the two bills were submitted to the House of Representatives on May 15 — that the ruling bloc will pass them into law “by this coming summer.”
“We are not going to allow the government to use those laws because we are going to show that they are not supported by the people and they remain unconstitutional,” Nakano said.
“I believe critics will start a campaign to vote out ruling party lawmakers in the upper house election so as to create a ‘divided Diet.’ ”
In a divided Diet, the ruling bloc only holds a majority in one of the two chambers, making it difficult to pass legislation. Currently, the LDP-Komeito coalition controls a two-thirds majority in the Lower House and a majority in the Upper House.
Half of the 242 Upper House members will face re-election next summer.
Political observers are watching how much support Abe will lose after the enactment and how much he will be able to recover before the Upper House election. Recent polls showed support rates for Abe’s Cabinet at around 40 percent.
With a plan to reshuffle Cabinet members and LDP executives in early October, Abe is likely to focus on economic measures to bolster public support for his government.
Despite more than 200 hours of deliberations in both chambers of the Diet, the ruling and opposition camps failed to bridge differences over the legislation. The Lower House passed it on July 16.
Abe says the laws will strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance and provide firmer deterrence in the Asia-Pacific in the face of an increasingly assertive China and North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons development.
Opponents argue the legislation, which enables Japan to defend the United States and other friendly nations under armed attack in “collective self-defense,” violates the supreme charter and could drag the country into U.S.-led conflicts around the world.
Defending Abe, security experts say the new laws in no way alter Japan’s commitment to an exclusively defense-oriented security policy in line with the Constitution, and that the country will remain subject to tighter legal constraints on the use of force than any other country in the world.