The 150-day ordinary Diet session that kicked off Monday will be an opportunity for the opposition camp to confront the new Liberal Democratic Party administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Age in the runup to the July Upper House election.
Although still in control of the upper chamber, the opposition camp, particularly the Democratic Party of Japan, which was clobbered in last month’s Lower House election, is struggling to stay relevant.
After its landslide win last month, the LDP is bent on regaining a majority in the Upper House, and hence a clear voter mandate for Abe.
The main focus of the five-month Diet session is expected to be measures to boost the economy and help the disaster-hit Tohoku region recover, and the Abe team was quick to take the initiative in announcing virtually unlimited public spending plans and works projects to both ends — leaving opposition lawmakers with little to argue about.
“We believe a (government-sponsored) supplementary budget is necessary,” DPJ Secretary General Goshi Hosono told an NHK news program aired Sunday. “We will fully cooperate to help the reconstruction of disaster-hit areas.”
The DPJ and other opposition parties are expected to go after Abe’s economic stimulus measures, claiming they are a return to the LDP’s costly pork-barrel politics, centered on traditional public works projects, and will only worsen the debt-ridden government’s long-term fiscal plight.
The supplementary budget, which includes public works worth more than ¥5 trillion, will more than double the central government’s public works outlays for fiscal 2012.
The outline of the budget was hastily compiled in just over two weeks, raising concerns the government might end up just scattering money around to build unnecessary infrastructure in the name of temporary economic growth.
“Calls for more public works will grow again next year for sure” to keep propping up the economy, Hosono said on an NHK program. “We want (the government) to seriously think about” fiscal sustainability.
But the sharp depreciation of the yen, which is great news for Japan’s exporters, and the rising Nikkei 225 average since Abe took office last month are making it difficult for the opposition to discredit him.
The hawkish Abe’s administration has been trying to maintain a low-profile, seeking to avoid gaffes and diplomatic confrontations before the summer Upper House election in a bid to keep voters focused on domestic economic issues and keeping his contentious rightwing agenda on hold.
Full-fledged deliberations on controversial government-sponsored bills — if they are ever submitted to the Diet — are likely to come only after the enactment of the fiscal 2013 budget, now expected to be around early May.
Bills to be submitted to the Diet include ratification of the Hague Convention on cross-border parental child abductions and one to allow politicians to campaign for elections via the Internet.
Abe’s team may also submit legislation to create Japan’s version of the National Security Council of the United States and to ease conditions on the overseas dispatch of the Self-Defense Forces.
In his keynote speech at Monday’s opening session, Abe avoided mention of sensitive issues that might raise controversy — including his quest to revise the pacifist Constitution, change Japan’s official statements on its wartime history, and take a tough line against China and South Korea over territorial rows.
“I attach the greatest importance to revitalization of the economy,” Abe said.
As the largest opposition force, the DPJ failed to take exception to Abe’s hawkish, rightwing bent.
The DPJ’s executives initially likened their party to a “middle-of-the-road” force in revising its platform to differentiate itself from the LDP.
Their December campaign plan, which focused on tight fiscal discipline, terminating nuclear power, and participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade agreement, now appears on hold.
But its new platform apparently looks to placate conservatives within its ranks.
The DPJ plans to adopt a new platform during its Feb. 24 party convention.