A 150-day regular Diet session convenes Monday as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe continues to grapple with a hostage crisis that will likely spur debate about Tokyo’s fight against terrorism.
Since the apparent killing of one of two Japanese hostages being held by a group thought to be Islamic State, Japan, vowing not to yield to terrorism, has been scrambling to secure the release of the other captive — freelance journalist Kenji Goto — through every channel.
The Diet session comes amid Abe’s repeated calls for raising Japan’s security profile abroad by making “proactive” contributions to global peace and security. Japan pledged $200 million in “humanitarian and nonmilitary support,” including providing aid to countries helping refugees from Syria and Iraq, before the hostage crisis started.
Abe has portrayed the Diet session through June 24 as one to push for bold reform in various sectors, such as agriculture, labor, energy and medical care. One feature of Abe’s growth strategy is to streamline Japan’s powerful agricultural cooperatives.
Unified local elections are scheduled for April, when the prime minister’s handling of the hostage crisis and the government could be tested. Despite a convincing victory in the Dec. 14 general election, candidates supported by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have lost in multiple gubernatorial races since last year.
The government is expected to seek passage by early April of a ¥3.12 trillion supplementary budget for fiscal 2014 and a record-high ¥96.34 trillion annual budget for 2015, after Abe put off a second sales tax hike until to 2017 following a recession triggered by the first increase last April.
Currently, the government plans to submit around 70 bills to the Diet, officials said. In addition, Abe’s government plans to submit more than 10 bills to loosen restrictions on the Self-Defense Forces as the ruling coalition of the LDP and Komeito is expected to step up talks on security in early February.
Legislative work is needed for Japan to effect a Cabinet decision made in July to ensure a “seamless” response to various security threats. This includes the country’s potential exercise of the right to collective self-defense, or defending allies under armed attack even when Japan is not.
Abe is not scheduled to give a policy speech on the opening day of the Diet session. Finance Minister Taro Aso will deliver a financial policy speech on Monday in both chambers.
It will be the first Diet session for Katsuya Okada after his recent election as leader of the Democratic Party of Japan, the main opposition force.