Tough Diet session begins

Japan's Diet kicked off an ordinary session on Monday and the Liberal Democratic Party's ruling coalition is focused on passing budget bills in the first term. But the opposition wants to get answers from the Prime Minister about recent scandals involving his Cabinet and his party.

Precarious timing

The ordinary session runs for 150 days until June 17. It can be extended by the Abe administration to enact additional bills, but that may be difficult this year because of major events -- the Olympics and Paralympics, and the Tokyo gubernatorial election. Experts say that means this year's session is likely to be especially confrontational, as the government and opposition grapple with a firm deadline on passing legislation.

inside the Diet

Dual budgets

The government and the ruling parties submitted two budget bills on Monday. One is the 2019 supplementary budget, worth over 4.4 trillion yen, or 40 billion dollars. It includes funds for disaster recovery and reconstruction. The other is the draft budget for fiscal 2020, which comes to more than 102 trillion yen, or about 930 billion dollars, a record amount for the eighth straight year. It includes nearly 36 trillion yen for social security spending and a record 5.3 trillion yen for defense.


Last month, Lower House lawmaker Tsukasa Akimoto was arrested in connection with a bribery scandal. Akimoto was the former state minister in charge of integrated resorts, which include casinos. The introduction of casino resorts remains a divisive issue in the country, and opposition lawmakers were quick to submit a bill on Monday to repeal their legalization.

Tsukasa Akimoto
Lower House lawmaker Tsukasa Akimoto is denying the allegations.

Another scandal making headlines is an investigation of the offices of Upper House lawmaker Anri Kawai for possible election law violations. Her husband, Katsuyuki Kawai, was the justice minister but resigned in the wake of these allegations.

On Monday, the couple returned to the Diet for the first time in over two months and spoke to reporters.

"I want to fully cooperate with the ongoing investigation," Anri Kawai said. "I will provide a full explanation at the appropriate time."

"I apologize for the fact that the case in question has added to the public's distrust of politics," her husband said, adding that he would be more committed than ever to fulfilling his duties as a Diet member.

Katsuyuki Kawai and Anri Kawai
Lawmakers Katsuyuki Kawai and Anri Kawai.

Another embattled lawmaker making a return to the Diet was Lower House LDP member Isshu Sugawara. He had taken a three-month leave of absence after a weekly magazine published allegations of election law violations involving his office, forcing him to resign as Industry Minister barely a month after taking up the post.

Sugawara told reporters he is not considering leaving the LDP or resigning as a lawmaker and that he intends to serve his full term.

cherry blossom viewing party
Abe's cherry blossom viewing party has become an issue.

In addition to all of this, there is a scandal involving the Prime Minister himself. Abe is alleged to have invited far more guests to the annual state-funded cherry blossom viewing party than usual, which has increased the cost. In response to the ongoing controversy, the government has announced it is cancelling this year's event and will clarify the criteria for invited guests. But this is unlikely to placate critics, and the opposition parties are demanding that Abe and three other politicians be held accountable.

Abe's words

Abe addressed both houses as part of the opening assembly. It was immediately clear that his focus during the ordinary session will be on the upcoming Olympics and Paralympics.

"Japan will inspire the world with the best ever Olympics and Paralympics," Abe said. "Let's embark on this new era of Japan together."


He also spoke about social security reform, referring to it as his administration's greatest challenge.

"There is an urgent need to curb the increasing burden on the current working generation," he said.

As for foreign policy and security, Abe spoke of establishing a new era of diplomacy. He said that despite the frosty state of current relations, South Korea remains an important neighbor to Japan, and that the two countries share fundamental values and strategic interests.

On amending the Constitution, the Prime Minister called for discussions to be held at the Council on the Constitution in both houses of the Diet.

National Diet Building

There are no national elections planned this year, but terms are up for Lower House members just one year after the Olympics and Paralympics, so thoughts of reelection are likely to steer Diet debate.