This year’s extraordinary Diet session came to a close Monday, ending a sitting that has been wracked with problems and scandals since it started in early October.
During the course of the session two ministers resigned, a plan for reforming college English-language tests was withdrawn and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was accused of breaching election campaign laws in relation to a cherry-blossom viewing party hosted each year by the nation’s political leader.
Those scandals encouraged opposition lawmakers to boycott a number of bills, including one that included measures said to make voting in referendums easier and would have been instrumental to delivering constitutional revision.
Failure to enact the referendum bill was particularly damaging for Abe, who has long tried to promote parliamentary debate over his proposal to revise the U.S.-drafted postwar Constitution.
In a news conference later the same day, Abe said it was “very regrettable” that the bill had not been enacted during the session, arguing that the result of the Upper House election in July had suggested a majority of voters wanted the Diet to at least promote debates over constitutional revision.
“The road to constitutional revision is not an easy one, but by all means I myself will carry out (constitutional revision),” Abe stressed, noting that “it is our political responsibility to stick to the promise we made to the people.”
“The LDP will continue to take the initiative to revise the constitution step by step,” he added.
Rather than furthering such debates, discussions during the session had come to focus on the annual budget for the official cherry-blossom viewing party, with opposition lawmakers pointing out that it had nearly doubled over the past six years to hit ¥57.28 million in fiscal 2020.
The revelation raised suspicions that Abe might have taken advantage of the state-funded prestigious event to entertain hundreds of his own supporters as well as those of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. The Diet session also revealed that the guest list for this year’s party was shredded on the very day a Diet member requested its release.
Abe’s office was also reported to have organized another private, pre-event party for voters at what was suspected to be massively discounted rates, which opposition lawmakers have claimed was a possible violation of the election campaign law.
The final week of the session proved to be a tug-of-war between the opposition and the ruling bloc, with the opposition suggesting that they would submit a vote of no confidence against Abe, given the way he handled the party scandal.
Abe has, at least, seen success with the Diet’s approval of a bilateral U.S.-Japan trade agreement. While the opposition criticized the deal for giving too much ground to the United States, by lowering tariffs on U.S. agricultural products without a concrete commitment from the U.S. to lower tariffs on Japanese car exports, the bill was passed thanks to the LDP’s majority in the Diet.
The Diet session was a crucial one for Abe’s tenure as prime minister, given that only two years remain until the end of his term as LDP party leader and also his premiership.
But there were problems from the outset. Two weeks into the session, trade minister Isshu Sugawara resigned over allegations he had breached election campaign rules. Then, just a week later, Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai resigned, too, following a scoop by a tabloid claiming that his wife — also a politician — had broken the law by paying some of her campaign staff more than the legal limit. When asked about the two resignations, which came in such close succession, Abe acknowledged responsibility, saying that he had been the person who appointed them.
Since then, opposition lawmakers have slammed Abe for not taking any concrete action to atone for making the appointments that lead to the scandals.