While protests raged in the streets outside, a scuffle broke out inside Japan's parliament on Thursday when opposition lawmakers sought to physically prevent the ruling Liberal Democratic Party from passing a series of widely unpopular bills derided as "war legislation" that would allow the country's soldiers to participate in the foreign wars of the United States and other allies.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been aggressively pressing for the rapid passage of the 11-bill package, which already sailed through the lower house in July.
On Thursday night, upper house lawmakers in Tokyo opposed to the bills attempted to block a vote by physically preventing the committee chairperson from accessing his microphone. When ruling party politicians surrounded the chairperson, a scrum broke out, with punches thrown and some politicians even piling on top of the melee. The scene was captured in the following video footage.
Despite the skirmish, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party ultimately passed the bills, which are next headed to the full upper house for what could be the final vote. Abe is aiming to drive the legislation through during parliament's current session, which ends September 27.
"If bills can be passed in a violent way like that, then our country’s democracy is dead," Tetsuro Fukuyama, committee member of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, told the New York Times.
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Ruling party lawmakers advanced the legislation in defiance of tens of thousands of protesters who have rallied from Tokyo to Osaka to Kyoto against the package, which many worry will further militarize Japanese society. On Thursday night, massive crowds braved heavy rain to gather outside of parliament chanting: "Scrap the war bills now!" A protest led by students, union members, and peace advocates in late August drew over 120,000 people to Tokyo, followed by a rally of at least 45,000 earlier this week.
Backed by the United States, the bills would permit the country's military, known as the Self Defense Force, to participate in overseas wars and combat operations—even in cases where Japan is not directly attacked—for the first time since World War II. The political move comes amid the country's deepening military ties with the United States which is orchestrating a "pivot" to Asia in an effort to hedge against China.
The package is widely unpopular in Japan. According to polling information released Monday by Japanese publication The Asahi Shimbun, 68 percent of voters in the country hold that the security legislation in the current parliamentary session is unnecessary and 54 percent oppose to the bills. Just 29 percent of Japanese voters said they support the package.
Aki Okuda, a student at Tokyo’s Meiji Gakuin University and founding organizer with Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy, recently told Japan Times: "No matter what happens with these security bills, the people who are now standing up and raising their voices will not stop."