TOKYO (AP) -- Japan's lower house of parliament on Thursday approved legislation that would allow an expanded role for the nation's military in a vote boycotted by the opposition.
The vote came one day after Prime Minster Shinzo Abe's ruling bloc forced the bills through a committee despite intensifying protests.
Opposition lawmakers walked out after their party leaders made final speeches against the bills. Only members of the Japan Restoration Party voted for their counterproposal and against the ruling party legislation.
Abe wants to strengthen the military's role to counter China's growing presence in the region and contribute more to international peacekeeping efforts.
The legislation was crafted after his Cabinet last year adopted a new interpretation of Japan's pacifist constitution, which was drafted by the U.S. and has been in place since a year after the end of World War II.
Opponents, including lawmakers, legal experts and academics, counter that the new interpretation is unconstitutional.
Polls show that about 80 percent of Japanese find the bills hard to swallow, and the majority of them say they think the legislation is unconstitutional.
The legislation now moves to the upper chamber of parliament for further debate and a vote within 60 days.
If the upper house votes down the legislation or fails to vote within 60 days, it will be sent back to the lower house for a final say. However, Thursday's approval virtually guarantees enactment of the legislation into law because the more powerful lower house's decision overrides the upper chamber's vote.