Kato, Yamasaki of LDP predict elections will precede July summit

Kyodo

Two senior members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party said Saturday they believe the next general election will take place before the Group of Eight summit in July, with one asserting it will be held in June.

“I previously thought the election would be after the Okinawa summit, but now I think it will be moved up due to the emergency situation,” Koichi Kato, former LDP secretary general, told a gathering of his faction in Fukuoka.

Kato was referring to the abrupt change in leadership from Keizo Obuchi to Yoshiro Mori after the former suffered a stroke and fell into a coma on April 2.

Taku Yamasaki, head of another LDP faction who attended the same gathering, was more direct, declaring, “The election will definitely take place some time in June.”

Regarding the new Mori administration, Kato said it should work out fine as long as it realizes that economic structural reforms are necessary in “saving” the country from the prolonged recession and that the next two to three years hold the key to Japan’s future.

Yamasaki, former LDP policy chief, suggested that Mori handle governance “through debates and by respecting the opinions of the minority” rather than using its strength as a majority to push items through the Diet.

Commenting on the LDP presidential election scheduled for September next year, Yamasaki said that while he personally has not decided whether to run, Kato will most definitely enter the race.

Both Kato and Yamasaki ran in the previous LDP presidential election, won by Obuchi in September 1999.

The LDP presidency usually carries with it the post of prime minister because of the party’s dominance in the powerful House of Representatives, which has the final say in selecting the head of government.

No change in Obuchi

The condition of former Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, who fell into a coma after suffering a stroke early last Sunday, remained unchanged Saturday, his secretaries said.

Obuchi’s wife, Chizuko, and other family members are keeping a constant vigil at his bedside at Tokyo’s Juntendo Hospital, they said.

Meanwhile, a spokesman at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence said Saturday its official Web site has received some 3,200 pieces of e-mail from citizens, ranging from teenagers to senior citizens, expressing sympathy for Obuchi and wishing for his recovery.

Many said they miss Obuchi’s affability, including his smile, the spokesman said.

“In the midst of an unprecedented recession, no one could make the public feel relieved and could be so kind and broad-minded but you,” a 51-year-old man wrote.

“You were the prime minister who was closer to the public than any other,” a 31-year-old woman wrote.

A 33-year-old man praised Obuchi’s pump-priming measures, writing, “The economy’s spring is around the corner, thanks to your hardship!”

A 28-year-old woman wrote, “Please show us your smile once more,” and then typed the Chinese characters for “tsuru” (crane) 1,000 times. In Japan, 1,000 folded paper cranes on a string are symbolic of a prayer for a quick recovery from illness.

The office’s Web site was renewed Friday following Yoshiro Mori’s election Wednesday as president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and as prime minister, but it will continue accepting e-mail for his predecessor, the spokesman said.

Mori calls on Chretien

Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori telephoned Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien on Saturday to seek help in making a success of July’s summit of the Group of Eight in Okinawa Prefecture, Japanese officials said.

“I will make efforts to make the July G8 summit successful, following the basic policies of former Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, and would like to request your cooperation,” Mori was quoted by the officials as telling Chretien.

Chretien replied that he would provide as much cooperation as possible, the officials said.

Mori also told Chretien that he wants to tackle the various issues involving the summit together with Japan’s G8 partners and said he aims to promote further closeness in political and economic relations between Japan and Canada, the officials said.

Chretien expressed concern over the condition of Obuchi, who is in a coma and in critical condition after suffering a stroke Sunday, saying Obuchi was a good friend.

Mori, who succeeded Obuchi on Wednesday, is expected to chair the G8 summit scheduled for July 21 to 23.