TOKYO -- Japan has passed its largest-ever budget with time to spare, letting the ruling coalition tackle other legislative priorities and giving an opposition emboldened by a scandal enfolding Prime Minister Shinzo Abe a chance to take a stand.
The upper house approved Monday the record 97.45 trillion yen ($881 billion) in spending for the year starting Saturday, a month after the lower house passed the budget and a day before the plan would have automatically taken effect. The government aims to "give the virtuous cycle" between economic growth and the sharing of wealth "a healthy spin, accelerating an escape from deflation," Abe told a news conference after the plan was enacted into law.
The budget includes a record 5.12 trillion yen in defense spending, as well as greater outlays for such social programs as medical and nursing care for the country's aging population. Of the budgets enacted since Abe began his second stint as prime minister in 2012, only the one for fiscal 2014 passed more quickly.
Abe's Liberal Democratic Party and junior coalition partner Komeito now look to move on to other legislation. Topping the list is revising the law on organized crime so that would-be terrorists working together can be prosecuted for criminal conspiracy. The legislation would also ratify the 187-member United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, allowing Japan to share information on investigations with other parties to the convention.
The Abe government is pushing to have the law enacted during the current Diet session, arguing that anti-terrorism measures should be implemented swiftly. The plan is to have the lower house's judicial affairs committee take up the proposal soon.
Time to resist
But the opposition is digging in for a fight. Yoshihiko Noda, secretary-general of the leading opposition Democratic Party, on Monday called the proposed revision "underhanded," telling a news conference that it "does not differ substantially from the three past, failed proposals to define 'criminal conspiracy.'" The party argues that Japan could join the U.N. convention without making the proposed legal changes.
Opposition lawmakers also intend to hold Abe's feet to the fire over a recent scandal involving public land in Osaka sold far below the market rate to a school operator espousing controversial nationalist ideology.
Candidates running in July for seats in Tokyo's Metropolitan Assembly must declare by June 23. This will make it difficult to extend the current Diet session far past its June 18 end date. The ruling coalition aims to avoid full-on partisan warfare late in the game that could influence the election, placing further limits on a tight schedule.
Komeito chief Natsuo Yamaguchi questioned in a news conference Monday "why a proposal introduced later on must be debated first." This is a nod to a proposal that would toughen legislation regarding sexual offenses, introduced to the judicial affairs committee before the conspiracy law. Adjusting the calendar in this way could help stave off a confrontation.