Japanese Diet convenes; reduced tax, TPP to lead intense debates

Japanese Diet convenes; reduced tax, TPP to lead intense debates

The ruling and opposition parties will discuss bills related to the introduction of a reduced consumption tax rate and the approval of a draft agreement necessary for putting the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade pact into effect at the ordinary Diet session that convened on Monday.

With an eye on the House of Councillors election to be held this summer, the adversarial stance the opposition parties will adopt against the government and the ruling parties is certain to cause heated Diet debates.

Prime Minster Shinzo Abe reported on diplomatic affairs at a plenary session in both Diet chambers on Monday and referred to the issue of so-called comfort women, on which Tokyo and Seoul reached a deal in December 2015.

Abe said: "The issue will be resolved finally and irreversibly. I'm quite sure the Japan-South Korea relationship will enter a new future-oriented era."

Japan became a nonpermanent member of the UN Security Council and will host the Ise-Shima summit in May. Abe expressed his resolve to maintain coordination with the international community and said, "Japan will exercise its leadership and closely co-operate with other countries to tackle various challenges facing the international community."

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso delivered a speech on fiscal policies. Saying "now is the time to tackle the structural problem of an aging population and low birth rate," he stressed the government's stance of passing a draft supplementary budget for fiscal 2015 aimed at realizing "a society in which all citizens are dynamically engaged."

The convening of the ordinary Diet session, which is scheduled to last for 150 days or until June 1, is the earliest since 1992. The Diet session convened in January 2009 under the administration of then Prime Minister Taro Aso opened one day later than the session that started Monday.

A reduced tax rate of 8 per cent is to be applied to foods in general and newspapers when the consumption tax rate is hiked to 10 per cent in April 2017. The government and ruling parties aim to enact related bills in March to secure a year to publicize the reduced tax rate.

Opposition parties intend to grill the government and the ruling coalition over how to secure financial resources.

The government and ruling parties plan to finish practical deliberations on major issues by the time a summit meeting of the Group of Seven major nations is held in the Ise-Shima area in Mie Prefecture on May 26 and 27. They would then enter the upper house election in the summer backed by the diplomatic achievements of the summit, according to sources.

Abe aims for upper house majority

Abe said at a press conference at the Prime Minister's Office on Monday morning that the victory line in this summer's upper house election would be a majority of seats won by members of the Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner Komeito.

Abe said: "To stably implement more policies, we'd like to secure a majority in the upper house with LDP and Komeito members, with the aim of having all our candidates win in the election."

Abe said the achievements of his administration over the past three years and the new policy of creating a society in which all citizens are dynamically engaged will be judged in the election.

Regarding amending the Constitution, Abe said: "We'd like to emphasise the necessity to voters in the upper house election campaign and deepen national discussions at the same time."

Although some observers are speculating about the possibility of Abe dissolving the House of Representatives at the same time and consequently holding twin elections, the prime minister stressed that he had no intention of dissolving the lower house.

As for the management of his administration in 2016, Abe enthusiastically said: "The task before us is to take on challenges both domestically and in foreign affairs. I am determined to resolutely take on future challenges in 2016."

Regarding the Ise-Shima summit in May, Abe said: "I'd like to make the summit a big chance for taking on future challenges for the global economy alongside leaders of major countries."

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