Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gained a major victory Thursday as the lower house of Parliament voted in favor of his measure to allow the nation's military limited power to fight in foreign conflicts, The New York Times reports.
The package of security bills would have to pass the upper house before becoming law, but Abe's party also controls that chamber. Should the bills pass, it would be the first time since World War II that Japan's military would be allowed to fight in foreign wars.
The measure has strong opposition from the public – it is opposed 2-1 – with protesters braving a typhoon to make their voices heard.
Opponents say it violates Japan's post-war Constitution, written by the American occupiers.
The Constitution states that "the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes."
Ninety percent of the country's constitutional scholars say the law would violate the Constitution, the Times reports. The country's judges have not overruled the government on security matters, however.
While the country has held a doctrine of peace for 70 years to atone for its wartime past, Abe has pushed for the change in an effort to protect Japan and insists provisions in the bill prevent it from getting involved in wars such as Iraq.
Japanese overseas deployments in the past have been limited to logistical support.
The United States supports the change, believing it would help stabilize the region against the growing threat of China, but other countries in the region haven't forgotten past atrocities committed by the Japanese.
"These laws are absolutely necessary because the security situation surrounding Japan is growing more severe," Abe said after the vote. He pointed to two Japanese hostages killed by Islamic State (ISIS) militants in January, saying rescue actions could have been taken had the laws been in place at the time.
Opposition lawmakers boycotted the vote as thousands of protesters took to the streets chanting, "No War, No Killing" and "Don't send our children to war."
Abe, addressing the nation on his party's Internet radio station, said the measure is not intended to facilitate war, but rather to avoid it, NBC News reports.
"We are preparing ourselves in case we are attacked by a foreign nation," he said. "By preparing ourselves, just like well-protected homes help prevent robbers, this will allow us to prevent wars. This is deterrence."
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