TOKYO — Students, mothers and other protesters staged rallies at more than 200 locations across Japan on Aug. 30, calling for the scrapping of controversial security legislation that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to enact to strengthen the role of Japanese forces abroad.
A major rally in front of the Diet building in central Tokyo attracted around 120,000 protesters, according to the organizers.
Opposition party leaders such as Katsuya Okada, head of the Democratic Party of Japan, and Kazuo Shii, chairman of the Japanese Communist Party, also joined the event.
The opposition leaders vowed to work together to urge Abe’s government to give up on the bills, with DPJ head Okada saying, “The Abe administration must understand that ordinary citizens have a sense of crisis and are angry.”
DPJ Secretary General Yukio Edano said in Iwate Prefecture, “It will not be democracy” if the public’s calls against the bills are ignored.
The JCP’s Shii said, “We will definitely bring the bills to an end by expanding the campaign against them across Japan.” The leaders of two other opposition parties also took part in the Tokyo rally.
Abe’s government is aiming to pass the bills, now being debated in the upper house, during the current Diet session that has been extended to run through late September.
The ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and its smaller coalition partner the Komeito party, meanwhile, denied that the rally — the biggest of its kind against the security bills — will influence Diet deliberations and expressed eagerness to pass the bills.
“We will proceed to the next step by enacting this legislation during the current Diet,” said LDP Secretary General Sadakazu Tanigaki in Hyogo Prefecture.
Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi said in Iwate Prefecture, “(The public) will support the bills if we explain properly. We will continue to talk in a sincere manner.”
The bills would greatly expand the Self-Defense Forces’ operations overseas and allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense, or coming to the aid of the United States or other friendly nations under armed attack even if Japan itself is not attacked.
The legislation would be a major shift in Japan’s post-World War II exclusively defense-oriented security policy.
Critics including constitutional scholars have slammed the bills as violating the nation’s war-renouncing Constitution and many people are concerned that the legislation would make Japanese involvement in a war likelier.
“Is it extreme, biased, or self-centered to say that the Constitution should be protected?” Aki Okuda, a 23-year-old central member of a group called Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy-s, or SEALDs, addressed the gathering near the Diet.
Similar rallies were held across Japan, with around 25,000 gathering in a park in the western city of Osaka, according to the organizer.
Sachiko Morita, 73, said at the Osaka gathering, “If we let this go, our children’s and grandchildren’s generations would be in trouble. I joined the event so that I would not be regretful.”
In Hiroshima and Nagasaki, devastated by the U.S. atomic bombings in 1945, around 500 and 800 people gathered, respectively, calling for opposition to the bills, according to the organizers.
Mitsugi Moriguchi, a 78-year-old atomic bomb survivor, said, “I was very happy when, after the war ended, my elementary school teacher taught me that we would no longer need to go to war” thanks to the Constitution, “But Prime Minister Abe is trying to change that Constitution.”
Abe’s LDP and the Komeito voted the bills through the powerful lower house on July 16 amid an opposition walkout.
Given the ruling coalition’s dominance in the House of Representatives, a second vote in the chamber could pass the bills into law with a two-thirds majority, even if the House of Councillors fails to put them to a vote within 60 days of their passage by the lower house under the Diet’s “60-day rule.”