TOKYO - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made another pitch Wednesday for security bills which would beef up Japan's military, as he pushed legislation through a key panel despite surging public and parliamentary opposition.
At the House of Representatives committee, which is dominated by Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), members of opposition parties surrounded the chairman, holding banners to protest the "forced" passage.
But the bills that would expand the remit of the country's armed forces were approved by the lawmakers of the ruling coalition, and are now set to move to a vote in the main chamber on Thursday.
They would then be debated in the upper house before they could become law.
The voting in the lower house committee came as hundreds of protestors shouted opposition to the bills outside the parliament building, while thousands also rallied against the Abe government on Tuesday.
The proposed legislation is something of a pet project for Abe, despite widespread public disquiet over what many Japanese say is an affront to the country's 70 years of pacifism.
"Unfortunately, the Japanese people still don't have a substantial understanding" of the bills, the prime minister told the panel on Wednesday.
"I will work harder so public understanding would deepen further." Japanese politics abounds with the notion that those who disagree with a position do not understand it properly, and must have it explained to them more carefully.
Abe, a robust nationalist, has pushed for what he calls a normalisation of Japan's military posture. He has sought to loosen restrictions that have bound the so-called Self-Defense Forces to a narrowly defensive role for decades.
But unable to muster the public support to amend the pacifist constitution imposed by the United States after World War II, Abe opted instead to re-interpret it for the purpose of his bills.
Chief among the changes is the option for the military to go into battle to protect allies - so called "collective defence" - even if there is no direct threat to Japan or its people, something successive governments have ruled out.
It has proved highly unpopular among academics and Japan's public, who are deeply wedded to the commitment to pacifism.
Abe's support rate has fallen to 39 percent, lower than the 42 percent disapproval rating, according to the latest poll by the leading Asahi Shimbun daily newspaper.
The shift in military policy is supported by 26 percent of those polled, while 56 percent expressed opposition.