Yoshiro Mori, head of the Liberal Democratic Party’s third-largest faction, was elected the nation’s 55th prime minister Wednesday afternoon and has reappointed the Cabinet of his stricken predecessor, Keizo Obuchi.
Mori, 62, won the post as expected, securing majority votes in both chambers of the Diet with the support of the three ruling parties, including the newly-formed Conservative Party, which seceded from the Liberal Party earlier this week.
“It will be a hard job, but it is God’s will that I do it,” Mori told reporters after gaining 335 of the total 488 votes cast by Lower House members. In the Upper House, he won 137 of the total 244 votes cast.
“My biggest task will be to continue tackling issues that former Prime Minister Obuchi had confronted, such as economic reconstruction, and put the nation’s economy on a stable recovery track,” Mori told a general meeting of LDP lawmakers earlier in the day as he was approved to assume the presidency of the LDP.
Obuchi remains in a coma and is being kept alive by life support equipment.
The Wednesday morning party election was a mere formality, conducted by gauging the applause of the meeting’s participants, as Mori’s selection had been decided during earlier negotiations behind the scenes.
“I feel like I can hear the voice of Prime Minister Obuchi from his bed, saying, “I trust you, so do it well,’ ” Mori said.
Mori pledged to strive to make the upcoming Group of Eight summit a great success and to bring the LDP a big win in the next general election.
“I have been acquainted with (Obuchi) for more than 40 years, and we have been through a lot together, in both good times and bad,” Mori told the meeting. “It is heartbreaking that he had to step down like this.”
All 18 ministers from the Obuchi Cabinet were reappointed to the new Cabinet, which Mori launched Wednesday night.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio Aoki will also remain at his post — reportedly at the urging of Hiromu Nonaka, the influential LDP figure who will fill Mori’s shoes as secretary general.
Mori’s Cabinet is the third in Japan’s political history to be reappointed en masse without reshuffling.
In 1957 then Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi reappointed every member of the previous Cabinet belonging to Tanzan Ishibashi. Eisaku Sato did the same when he became prime minister in 1964.
Prior to launching the new Cabinet, Mori met with New Komeito leader Takenori Kanzaki and Conservative Party chief Chikage Ogi Wednesday evening and officially anointed a new tripartite alliance under Mori’s leadership.
In the meantime, some political leaders are starting to suggest the LDP might bring the date for the general election forward — probably before the G8 summit in July — to cash in on sympathy votes caused by Obuchi’s tragic departure from office.
“We must realize that the election will be held soon,” Yukio Hatoyama, president of the Democratic Party of Japan, told a general meeting of the largest opposition force’s lawmakers Wednesday morning.
Hatoyama added that a change in prime ministers would not alter the ruling coalition’s character or policies.
Following the launch of the new Cabinet, the secretaries general of the three opposition parties — the DPJ, the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party — agreed to continue to make calls for an early general election.
“The election date is just around the corner and we will urge our local chapters to be fully prepared for the election,” said SDP leader Takako Doi.
The opposition parties also said the new prime minister should make his basic policy clear to the public through the Budget Committee and other sessions in the Diet.
Meanwhile, Aoki said in the morning that Obuchi’s condition has not changed; the former prime minister has been in a coma and on life support since Sunday night.
Aoki denied reports that Obuchi’s hand had moved recently, saying Obuchi’s doctors told him in person that it was untrue.
Obuchi was hospitalized early Sunday after suffering a stroke, which some are blaming on overwork. He was later moved to the intensive care unit at Tokyo’s Juntendo Hospital and put on a respirator.