Sep 17, 2015 12:49 AM

Protests delay vote by Japan's ruling bloc on military bills

The Associated Press

TOKYO (AP) Japan's parliament prepared Thursday for another battle of wills as opposition lawmakers persisted in blocking ruling-party bills aimed at increasing the military's influence, a highly sensitive issue in a country that takes pride in its pacifist constitution.

The legislative standoff is the latest development in a yearslong national discussion about the way Japan uses its military. It's a central question for the country since its armed forces were defeated in World War II seven decades ago.

Lawmakers in the upper house security legislation committee returned to their seats Thursday afternoon, but the meeting started with non-confidence motion against its chairman who earlier tried to force the meeting.

It was the latest delaying tactic by the opposition lawmakers who are trying to scrap the bills that would allow the military to defend Japan's allies even when the country isn't under attack, work more closely with the U.S. and other allies, and do more in international peacekeeping.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says Japan needs the bills to bolster its defense amid China's growing assertiveness and to share global peacekeeping efforts. Opponents say the legislation violates Japan's war-renouncing constitution, while putting Japan at risk of being embroiled in U.S.-led wars.

Opposition lawmakers, led by the Democratic Party of Japan, prevented colleagues from entering a designated upper house chamber all night Wednesday. They filled the hallway outside the room, blocking the chairman and holding up a preliminary question-and-answer session.

The ruling party's hopes that final approval by the full upper house would take place later Thursday look increasingly difficult as the opposition plans to propose a series of no-confidence votes against Abe's Cabinet and its key members a process likely to take more than half a day before a house vote can take place.

Those non-confidence motions, however, are purely symbolic and would have no impact on Abe's grip on power.

In a steady rain, a smaller group of protesters continued to rally outside parliament Thursday morning, after the bigger demonstration the previous night.

The protesters shouted "Scrap the bills right now" and "No to war bills," while flashing placards with anti-Abe and anti-war messages.

While the bills were being debated in parliament, new faces were joining the ranks of protesters typically made up of labor union members and graying left-wing activists.

Over the past few months, a group of students has led the protests, which have steadily grown to tens of thousands who fill the streets outside parliament every Friday and often on weekends.

"Anyone who understands the basic principle of the constitution cannot help but oppose the legislation," Aki Okuda, a leader of the group Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracies, told reporters. "It's ridiculous, and the bills' legal questions have fueled the people's anger."

Okuda was invited to speak at a parliamentary hearing Tuesday, when he urged lawmakers "to listen to the people's voices," and "not make us think it's absurd to take politics seriously."

The bills, passed by the more powerful lower house in July, have since been debated in the upper house. Abe's ruling party wants to have them approved by Friday to avoid a swelling of protests during the upcoming five-day weekend. Abe also promised the U.S. that the bills would pass in parliament by this summer.

The forced voting process in the lower house has fueled the protests, while media surveys have consistently showed the majority of respondents oppose the legislation. One released Monday by the liberal-leaning Asahi newspaper showed 54 percent of the respondents opposed the bills, compared to 29 percent supporting them.

Katsuya Okada, head of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, said it was "outrageous" for Abe's ruling block to rush a vote on legislation that has split the nation. "We must join our forces and block their ploy," he said.

Despite the delays, the bills are likely to be passed eventually because Abe's ruling bloc has a majority in the upper house.


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