This year's parliamentary debates over key policy issues started Wednesday, as top opposition leaders grilled Prime Minister Shinzo Abe over mainly three topics: A controversial taxpayer-funded cherry blossom-viewing party, the scandal over the legalization of casinos and a possibly dangerous dispatch of a Maritime Self-Defense Force unit to the Middle East amid high tensions over Tehran's nuclear program.

Wednesday's question-and-answer session at the Lower House suggested that the opposition is likely to focus on the three issues in a bid to delay enactment of the fiscal 2020 budget draft, which the government will try to pass through both the Lower and Upper houses by the end of March, when the current fiscal year ends.

Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan leader Yukio Edano went after Abe on allegations of cronyism and favoritism over an annual taxpayer-funded cherry blossom-viewing party hosted by the prime minister. Edano now leads the largest opposition group at the Diet that combines several parties.