The Lower House on Friday approved a record-high ¥102.66 trillion general budget for the upcoming fiscal year, marking a major milestone in the Diet session for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration as it scrambles to respond to COVID-19 outbreaks and a series of scandals.
The fiscal 2020 budget for the year starting April was cleared with a majority, including members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and coalition partner Komeito, voting in favor. The budget follows a recent trend of annual increases — record highs were marked in the last eight years — and tops ¥100 trillion for the second year in a row, darkening prospects for achieving fiscal reform.
Members of opposition parties had previously requested that the budget be rearranged to add funding for COVID-19 countermeasures, but the ruling party did not accept the suggestion. The biggest portion of the spending, about ¥35 trillion, was earmarked for social welfare, incorporating costs for free preschool education and tuition assistance for secondary education. To offset the economic impacts from October’s consumption tax hike, the budget allocates ¥1.78 trillion for stimulus programs such as reward point programs linked to cashless purchases.
In bids to stymie the budget’s passage, opposition parties had moved to remove lawmaker Yasufumi Tanahashi from his role as budget committee chairman, and sought a motion of no confidence against Justice Minister Masako Mori on Thursday. Both moves were voted down in the Lower House. Opposition lawmakers accused Tanahashi of playing favorites for the administration during committee debates. They slammed Mori for her alleged “illegal” involvement in deliberately extending the retirement age for a prosecutor — Hiromu Kurokawa — who is seen being close to Abe and his inner circle.
Kurokawa is the top prosecutor at the Tokyo High Public Prosecutor’s Office. Just before he turned 63, on Feb. 8, the government enabled him to work for six more months, drawing suspicion from the opposition that the move was meant to pave the way for Kurokawa to be named to the country’s highest prosecutor position, potentially undermining judicial independence.
When opposition lawmakers pointed out that the law relating to extending the retirement age for public servants does not cover prosecutors, the Abe administration said it had reinterpreted the legislation to include them.