By Nevin Thompson
Japan’s ruling coalition, led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, cut off debate and pushed the Legislation for Peace and Security through the House of Representatives’ special committee on security legislation on July 15, 2015.
This paves the way for the legislation to be passed into law later this summer. Once passed, the Legislation for Peace and Security will greatly expand the overseas role of the Self-Defense Forces and allow for Japan to exercise its “right to collective self-defense” and participate in military operations with other countries such as the United States.
The legislation is technically unconstitutional, contravening Article 9 of Japan’s post-war Peace Constitution.
The move to cut off debate in committee and ram the legislation through the Diet was deeply unpopular, both in Japan’s parliament and with the public at large. Opposition politicians protested the move in Japan’s Diet, while thousands of people took to the streets.
【速報】安保法案、明日強行採決へ 東京・日比谷公園では１万人が絶対反対叫ぶ pic.twitter.com/R2vQ3bZFai
— Thoton & The News (@Thoton) July 14, 2015[Tweet] BREAKING: Tomorrow ruling government to use cloture to pass Legislation for Peace and Security [in the Diet’s Lower House]. More than 10,000 come out to protest in Tokyo’s Hibiya Park.
Opposition politicians, including Japan Communist Party leader Kazuo Shii, were on hand to speak to the crowds:
When we seriously consider where our country is headed, the youth of Japan are taking the lead. I firmly believe that the future that Japan hopes and yearns for is right in this very spot!
Police were also mobilized to deal with protesters:
Protect our country from Shinzo Abe!
Eventually police put up barricades to prevent the large crowd from spilling onto the grounds of the Diet.
— 白井圭太 (@keikei_keita) July 15, 2015
Police have erected barricades to make sure no one can reach the front of the Diet building.
The large crowd protesting cloture and the eminent passage of the bill into legislation spilled onto the street.
— るな (@LunaRainbow8) July 15, 2015
We’re in front of the Diet. [The crowd has] taken over the street.
The crowd was so large that people gathered wherever they could find space.
The protest has spilled over into the Parliamentary Garden.
Many protesters who gathered in front of the national Diet building expressed dismay and fear over where Japan is heading:
— 能勢謙介 (@nose_kensuke) July 15, 2015
In front of the national Diet. On what path is this country now headed, I wonder? July 15, 2015: a day of dread.
No matter how much we protest and shout out here, on the other side of the barricades they will carry on [turning the bill into law]. I’d like to know what other way there is to make our will be known besides protesting in front of the Diet. As things stand, our country is in danger. We will not accept war, we must always pursue peace.
The ruling coalition’s ‘tortured logic’
In order to avoid a lengthy constitutional revision process that could affect the outcome of the Upper House elections next year, Japan’s ruling coalition has sought to “redefine” military deployment in terms that are somehow compatible with Japan’s Peace Constitution.
At the beginning of July, in an interview with Shingetsu News Agency‘s Michael Penn on behalf of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan, Japan Communist Party Leader Kazuo Shii remarked that Japanese legislators were “debating concepts here that are used nowhere else in the world:”
[Shii] suggested that the government was forced to employ tortured logic and to create entirely new legal concepts that no one had ever heard of […] […] The most amusing example that Shii posited was the Abe government’s concept of “the use of weapons.”
The prime minister argued in Diet debate that should the Self-Defense Forces come under attack while providing “rear area support” for a foreign military force, that it would be perfectly allowable that they have recourse to “the use of weapons” to defend themselves.
At the same time, however, Prime Minister Abe staunchly refuses to acknowledge that “the use of weapons” can be regarded as a practical synonym for “the use of force” – which is, of course, explicitly banned by Japan’s Constitution.
Public support for the ruling coalition, made up of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (Japan’s “natural governing party”) and junior coalition partner Komeito, has plummeted because of new security legislation.
It has been noted there are similarities between Shinzo Abe’s efforts to pass the new security legislation and his grandfather Nobusuke Kishi, who worked to sign a revised security treaty between the United States and Japan in 1960.
Riots broke out in Tokyo in January 1960 when the new Kishi-backed Japan-US security treaty was signed. Six months later Kishi, also a former cabinet minister in Japan’s wartime fascist government, would be forced to resign due to his unpopularity.
There is some anticipation that Shinzo Abe himself may be forced to resign himself before long to take responsibility for the unpopularity of the new Peace and Security legislation prior to the 2016 Upper House elections.
Nevin Thompson is the Japan Editor for Global Voices. He is a translator, writer, and journalist, and has been connected to Japan for more than twenty years.