[TOKYO] Japanese opposition lawmakers were locked in a rowdy standoff with the ruling coalition in parliament, having delayed the final passage of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's controversial bills that expand the role of the military.
Lawmakers were shown in television footage shouting at each another as an upper house committee tried to meet to endorse the measures. As thousands of people demonstrated outside parliament last night, the disruption by opposition lawmakers prevented the committee approval needed for the bills to go to a final vote in parliament today.
Mr Abe, whose public support has taken a hit over the legislative push, has vowed to enact the laws by the end of the parliamentary session on Sept 27. The bills bolster Japan's security stance at a time of territorial tensions with neighbour China over the East China Sea, but have caused unease in a country still bound by a pacifist constitution and the memory of Japan's wartime actions.
Japan's ally the US is among many foreign supporters of the laws that would allow Japanese troops to defend another country under attack. Even with China's military rise fueling concern in the region, Mr Abe has struggled to convince the public of the need to ease the constraints of the US-imposed constitution. Critics say the changes risk drawing Japan into US-led conflicts around the globe.
Despite the ruckus in parliament, Mr Abe is almost guaranteed to succeed, because his coalition has a majority in both houses. Even as Mr Abe's approval falls near record lows, he's also in little danger of being replaced - he 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.
Still, weak support could damage his chances of victory in a the next upper house election in July, potentially hampering his programe to revive the world's third-biggest economy.
A poll by NHK this month showed almost two-thirds of respondents didn't believe Mr Abe's assertion the bills would make Japan safer. Support for the government in the poll stood at 43 per cent, compared with 64 per cent in January 2013, shortly after he took office.
In an effort to assuage concern the coalition is railroading the bills through parliament, Mr Abe signed an agreement with three minor opposition parties on Wednesday. The document gives parliament greater oversight of the activities of the Self-Defence Forces in exchange for the backing of the parties for the changes.
The main opposition Democratic Party of Japan remains opposed to the bills, which have met with vocal criticism from well-known authors, musicians and filmmakers, as well as some within Abe'sown party.