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Japanese public oppose security bills and Abe right-wing pivot

Editor: Li Kun 丨CCTV.com

07-27-2015 17:19 BJT

By Zhou Yongsheng, professor & PhD supervisor, deputy director, center for Japanese studies, Institute of International Relations, China Foreign Affairs University

During the past two or three months, Japan's domestic opposition parties and the general public have been arguing with louder voices against the Shinto Abe government. Initially opposition parties expressed the public mood in debates in the lower house of parliament. Gradually that opposition developed into mass protests as thousands of people, even tens of thousands, became involved.
Marchers surrounded parliament and the prime minister’s official residence to protest in greater numbers than ever before. Public polls released by Japan’s Mainichi newspaper on July 17-18 show support for Abe's cabinet dropped 7 percent from 42 percent to 35 percent. About 51 percent of respondents expressed negative opinions. Disapproval is at its highest since the establishment of Abe's second cabinet. The Japanese special security committee of the lower house of parliament approved new security bills on July 15. As for the cabinet's actions, 68 percent of respondents believe "there are problems" with only 24 percent suggesting “no problem”. The statistics reflect the degree of popular opposition for the new security bills.

Why do Japanese people oppose the bills?

First, the new bills allow the prime minister and cabinet to have the freedom to send troops abroad, a power previously in the hands of parliament. It requires parliamentary legislation. Second, the bills enable the cabinet to join in a war as an ally. For example, if Japan’s ally the United States were attacked or declared war on another country then Japan’s cabinet would have the right to participate in support of the US. Third, according to the bills, Japan’s cabinet has the right to launch a foreign war in the event of Japan suffering a crisis of survival.

Note that in the above core changes contained in the new security bills, each and every regulation is related to war. All the regulations reduce the threshold for Japan's involvement in overseas wars. Article 9 of the 1947 peace constitution clearly stipulates that "the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.”

This means Japan gives up the right to state belligerency, whereas the passage of new security bills allows Japan to modify its war stance. This is not only fundamentally contrary to the constitution and not just a scandalous example of governments flouting the law but it is also a stain on the legal history of mankind. Based on domestic and international conditions and environmental changes, the bills offer Japan an excuse to launch wars in spite of not suffering aggression or attacks. The passage of these security bills opens a Pandora's box on war for Japan. That is why the majority of Japanese oppose these bills with great fervor.

Obviously they cannot overthrow Abe's bills. Abe leads a headlong rush rightwards. Under the current Japanese national institutions and legal system, Japan's domestic opposition parties and the general public lack the practical ability to constrain Abe’s behavior. The main reasons are as follows:

Firstly, Japan’s political system is a parliamentary democracy. All political forces run for seats in the lower house in Japan. Public votes decide which party rules and the leader of the majority party assumes the post of prime minister and assembles his cabinet.

In the lower house election in 2012, the Japanese public believed that Abe could improve their livelihoods and help the economy recover. Abe’s toughness did truly stir up some nationalist sentiment, and most of those people voted for the Liberal Democratic Party. In the end, the Abe-led Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner the New Komeito Party together won over two-thirds of all seats in the lower house.

Generally elections for the lower house take place every four years. The Japanese public as a rule only have the right to elect representatives, but cannot effectively intervene in government policy after the election.

Hence the Abe administration took advantage of its majority in coalition with the New Komeito Party to ignore public opinion and forcefully approve passage of the new security bills.

Secondly, although the Japanese public mainly oppose the new security bills, they are satisfied with Abe’s policies towards economic and social issues. Abeconomics have slightly aided an economic recovery, improved people’s living standards and enhanced welfare for women and children.

Although the passage of security bills has lowered the approval ratings of  the Abe administration, there is still a relatively high level of approval for the cabinet. This is mainly caused by Japan's complex domestic political situation.

Thirdly, the Abe administration has absolute power to control parliament.

Having a relatively high approval rate, Abe will continue to promote right-wing policy and will surely push harder to have new security bills passed in the upper house.

Abe’s next move is to amend the constitution. Opposition cannot stop his right-wing policy. But they have a second chance at the next parliamentary election.

If Abeconomics failed, Abe and the Liberal Democratic Party would probably be abandoned. But if it succeeded, then the security bills alone could not make Abe or his party step down.

The Japanese people have decisive rights over amendments to the constitution. Even after the lower house and upper house approve the bills with more than two thirds of the vote, they still require a public referendum. If more than 50 percent people of agree, the constitution can finally be amended, or vice-versa. This is Japan’s democratic system.

The Japanese public has some political rights, but their rights are subject to many restrictions and not commonly used. Thus in daily administrative affairs, even though the Japanese people object to government policy, they cannot change it.


( The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Panview or CCTV.com. )



Panview offers a new window of understanding the world as well as China through the views, opinions, and analysis of experts. We also welcome outside submissions, so feel free to send in your own editorials to "globalopinion@vip.cntv.cn" for consideration.

Panview offers an alternative angle on China and the rest of the world through the analyses and opinions of experts. We also welcome outside submissions, so feel free to send in your own editorials to "globalopinion@vip.cntv.cn" for consideration.


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