Mori put forward as Obuchi’s successor

Liberal Democratic Party executives decided late Monday evening to back Yoshiro Mori, secretary general of the LDP and the party’s No. 2 man, as successor to Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi should he be incapable of returning to lead the party, according to political sources.

Now that Obuchi, 62, is reportedly in coma, he is expected to be removed from office and his Cabinet is expected to step down as early as today.

Once the Obuchi Cabinet resigns, the LDP is likely to hold a general meeting of its Diet members to select the party’s next president, a job that is likely to entail taking over as prime minister because the party has a majority in the Diet.

Political sources said that New Komeito, its coalition partner, is also expected to accept the LDP’s choice.

Hiromu Nonaka, the LDP’s acting secretary general and politically savvy negotiator, is likely to take over Mori’s post and oversee party matters should Mori become prime minister, the sources said.

Mori’s influence in the LDP has grown as the party has placed a high priority on maintaining a solid working relationship with New Komeito.

The task has taken on even greater importance now that the Liberal Party, led by Ichiro Ozawa, is expected to leave the three-way coalition.

“Mr. Obuchi’s successor must be someone who can win the support of its coalition partner and hold the party together,” an LDP executive told reporters Monday night.

Mori, the head of the party’s fourth largest faction, has been a staunch supporter of Obuchi and has helped strengthen ties with New Komeito.

When Obuchi announced his candidacy in the last LDP presidential race in the fall, Mori was quick to support him over the two other candidates, former LDP Secretary General Koichi Kato and former LDP policy chief Taku Yamasaki.

Mori has also gained the trust of the powerful faction led by Obuchi, as well as that of New Komeito since the October launch of the trilateral coalition government.

New Komeito leader Takenori Kanzaki has told reporters that he will accept Mori if the LDP decides to make him its new president.

Mori, a Waseda graduate like Obuchi, was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1969 and has served 10 terms in the Diet.

Mori has held a number of positions within the LDP and the government, including stints as construction minister and minister of International Trade and Industry.

Foreign Minister Yohei Kono and Finance Minister Kiichi Miyazawa had been earlier mentioned as other possible successors to Obuchi.

The task of the new prime minister will be complicated by the range of political and diplomatic tasks the administration faces — ranging from the Group of Eight summit in July in Okinawa to a Lower House election. Obuchi’s successor will have to meet the demands imposed by these difficult tasks.