TOKYO -- New laws expanding Japan's security powers are set to become a flash point in July's upper house election as opposition parties step up pressure on the ruling coalition by labeling the legislation constitutional.
The controversial laws passed by the Diet in September are taking effect Tuesday.
"We are seeing a new national security environment where the people's right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is threatened," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at an upper house budget committee session on Monday, hoping to drum up public support. He emphasized the need for Japan to cooperate with the U.S. on missile defense as North Korea extends the range of its missiles.
The government and ruling parties argue that defense cooperation between the two countries will be smoother as Japan's Self-Defense Forces step up support of the U.S. military under the new laws. Stronger deterrence is necessary, given an increasingly assertive China and North Korea, which has defied the international community by conducting missile tests, the thinking goes.
The ruling coalition also hopes to drive a wedge between the newly formed Democratic Party and the Japanese Communist Party to undermine their cooperation in the upper house election. At a conference of his Liberal Democratic Party on March 13, Abe played up what he sees as the Communist Party's extreme positions, saying the party's aim is to dissolve the SDF and scrap the Japan-U.S. security treaty.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party is taking issue with the law allowing Japan to defend allies under attack. The exercising of Japan's right to collective self-defense is unconstitutional under Article 9 of the Constitution of Japan, which allows only minimal use of force for self-defense, the party argues.
"The Abe government changed its interpretation of the constitution without sufficient explanation," said Democratic Party leader Katsuya Okada on a TV program on Monday. The ambiguity of the law gives the government great leeway in deciding when to come to the rescue of allies. The new opposition party contends that Japan is more likely to get drawn into other countries' wars.
The two parties that merged to form the Democratic Party -- the Democratic Party of Japan and the Japan Innovation Party -- along with the Communist Party, Social Democratic Party and the People's Life Party & Taro Yamamoto and Friends jointly submitted a bill to scrap the security laws last month. The DPJ and Japan Innovation Party also presented three alternative bills, including legislation covering "gray zone" situations that fall short of direct attacks.
However, the opposition parties are not entirely on the same page. The Communist Party, SDP and People's Life Party oppose the security laws but have not offered any alternative proposals. And there are some conservative Democratic Party members who are in favor of Japan exercising the right to collective self-defense.