Japan's lower house of parliament (the Diet) has approved a series of changes that would allow for an expanded role for the Japanese military in a contentious vote that has left many in Japan concerned about the country's pacifist posture.
Under the terms of Japan's constitution adopted after WWII, the country can't maintain a military, navy, or air force. That has been fudged slightly over the years, though, to allow for the Japanese Self-Defense Forces (SDF) to exist.
1. Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, 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.2. In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has long wanted to amend Article 9, but couldn't muster the support. Instead, the changes he's marshaled forward don't actually alter the constitution, just what the government says the constitution means.
Opposition lawmakers refused to take part in the vote. Instead, they made their speeches against the measures and then walked out in boycott. The bills easily passed on the votes of Abe's Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner Komeito.
But Japanese citizens are not happy. An estimated 60,000 protesters turned out in front of the Diet building on Wednesday to rally against the changes. The demonstrations were peaceful, but still saw police pushing back protesters.
The bills now go to the upper house of the Diet, but even if it doesn't act, the lower house can still manage to make the bill a law with a 2/3 vote — easily doable with Abe's coalition.
Hayes Brown is a world news editor and reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.