TOKYO • Japanese lawmakers scuffled yesterday as they tried - and failed - to stop a vote on security Bills that could see the military fight abroad for the first time since the end of World War II.
Opposition lawmakers climbed on top of one another as they tried to grab the committee chairman's microphone to prevent him from calling a vote on the controversial Bills.
In scenes uncommon for Japan's normally sedate Parliament, the suited committee members lashed out at one another, pushing and shoving in a huge scrum.
But the mad-dash tactics, which came after hours of tortuous debate, failed to stop the Bills from being approved by the legislative committee as members of the ruling coalition stood up to signify their votes in favour.
The Bills, which could see Japanese troops fighting abroad for the first time since World War II, were expected to go to the full Upper House later yesterday or today, where they will likely be passed to become law.
Some 500 protesters braved wet weather to gather outside Parliament, waving their umbrellas and shouting "Stop the Bills" as the committee debate rumbled on inside. Some held up pictures of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with a Hitler haircut and moustache.
Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets to vent their anger at almost daily rallies over the past weeks, a show of public feeling on a scale rarely seen in Japan.
A total of 13 people were also reportedly arrested on Wednesday evening for "interfering with officers" during a rally that saw an estimated 13,000 people gather outside Parliament in Tokyo.
The Bills have taken a toll on Mr Abe's once-high popularity and opinion polls also show that most voters oppose them.
Mr Abe and his supporters say the Bills are necessary to deal with a changing security environment marked by an increasingly assertive China and unpredictable North Korea. Critics say the changes are unconstitutional and could drag Japan into American wars in far-flung parts of the globe.
Tensions were running high in Parliament after the committee vote was repeatedly delayed through Wednesday night, as opposition lawmakers blocked doorways and packed the corridors of Parliament in protest.
During the committee session, opposition lawmaker Tetsuro Fukuyama made an emotional speech outlining why his party had submitted a motion to delay the Bills.
"Is the ruling party listening to the voices of the public? You can do whatever you want to do because you have a majority - is that what you think?" he said, on the verge of tears.
But Mr Masahisa Sato, a senior ruling lawmaker who has promoted the Bills, hit back after they were approved, saying: "This is legislation necessary to protect the lives and happiness of Japanese people."
Opposition lawmakers were expected to propose a series of censure motions against Mr Abe and his ministers at the plenary session, seen as a delaying tactic that would take hours to finish but will likely be voted down by the ruling bloc.
Under the planned changes, the military - known as the Self-Defence Forces - would have the option of going into battle to protect allies such as the United States even if there was no direct threat to Japan itself or its people.
Although the Constitution, which bars troops from taking part in combat except in pure self-defence, was imposed by US occupiers, many Japanese feel strongly that any change in the law would alter the country's pacifist character.
Mr Abe is keen to get the Bills passed before a three-day holiday next week. The proposed legislation sailed through the Lower House, where Mr Abe's coalition commands a two-thirds majority, in July.