Abe's defense bills near final approval as protests rage in Japan
TOKYO (Tribune News Service) — As thousands protested outside parliament in Tokyo, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was poised to receive a key endorsement for legislation to expand the role of the military that’s sapped support for his government.
With demonstrators shouting calls for Abe to resign, a legislative committee prepared to approve the measures, setting up final passage of the bills in the upper house of parliament as soon as Thursday.
Abe has vowed to enact the laws to bolster Japan’s security stance by the end of the parliamentary session on Sept. 27, amid a territorial dispute with an increasingly assertive China. The changes, which include allowing Japanese troops to defend another country under attack, have been condemned by scholars as a breach of the country’s pacifist constitution and sparked huge protests in Tokyo.
While Japan’s ally, the U.S., is among many foreign supporters, public antipathy to the idea of a tougher defense posture has sent Abe’s approval ratings to near record lows. He is in little danger of being replaced, but weak support could damage his chances of victory in a July upper house election, potentially hampering his program to revive the world’s third-biggest economy.
Even with China’s military rise fueling tensions across the region, Abe has failed to convince the public of the need to ease the constraints of the U.S.-imposed constitution that bars Japan from engaging in war. Critics say the change risks allowing Japan to get dragged into U.S.-led conflicts around the globe.
A poll by NHK this month showed almost two-thirds of respondents didn’t believe Abe’s assertion that the bills would make Japan safer by strengthening deterrence. Support for Abe’s government in the poll was at 43 percent, compared with 64 percent in January 2013, shortly after he took office.
Despite that slide, Abe was selected unopposed this month for a second three-year term as leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, setting him on course to become the longest-serving premier since the 1970s.
In an effort to assuage concern that the ruling coalition is “railroading” the bills through parliament, Abe signed an agreement with three minor opposition parties Wednesday. The document gives parliament more oversight of the activities of what Japan calls its Self-Defense Forces in exchange for the backing of the three parties in passing the bill.
The biggest opposition Democratic Party of Japan remains opposed to the changes, which have met with vocal criticism from well-known authors, musicians and filmmakers, as well as from some within Abe’s own LDP.
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