Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government passed controversial legislation that gives prosecutors the power to monitor and arrest people in the planning stages of crimes.
As dawn broke in Tokyo on Thursday, bleary-eyed lawmakers voted to pass the so-called anti-conspiracy bill, which the government says is needed to bolster counter-terrorism precautions ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Opposition lawmakers pulled out an array of political tricks to delay the vote until morning.
Under the bill, terrorist groups or criminal organizations could be punished for the planning of 277 crimes, which range from arson to copyright violation. Critics say the legislation is vague and could lead to the suppression of civil liberties and excessive state surveillance.
The legislative win paves the way for Abe to push ahead with his long-held ambition to revise the pacifist constitution that has defined Japan’s security policy since World War II. Last month, he proposed an amendment to recognize the existence of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces while maintaining Article 9, which renounces the right to war and prohibits land, sea and air forces. He wants the change to take effect by 2020.
“This fits Abe’s agenda in the run-up to a prospective national referendum on constitutional revision, and Japan’s possible involvement in future wars,” said Koichi Nakano, professor of political science at Sophia University in Tokyo. “Both of these would require new means to control unruly citizens who object to government decisions.”
Helped by a stable economy, Abe’s support has remained resilient throughout his four-and-a-half years in office. Despite public ambiguity toward his drive to change the constitution and a probe into his alleged use of influence in helping a friend’s school project, his approval rating has remained around or above 50 percent for several years in the face of feckless opposition.