Mori aims to avoid future controversy by preselecting acting prime minister

Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori expressed his intention Monday to draft a crisis-management plan that would include a measure to predesignate a Cabinet member to assume the role of acting prime minister in the event the elected prime minister is incapacitated.

“I’m considering predesignating an acting prime minister and plan to decide on the matter as soon as possible,” Mori told the Diet.

He made the remark after Yukio Hatoyama, head of the Democratic Party of Japan, the main opposition force, criticized the government for its slowness in filling the political vacuum created by the hospitalization of former Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio Aoki was named as acting prime minister more than a full day after Obuchi was hospitalized last week. Mori was sworn in as prime minister on Wednesday.

During Monday’s session, Hatoyama also questioned the legitimacy of the newly launched Mori administration, saying it is the result of closed-door negotiations among heavyweights in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

The process leading toward the birth of the Mori government lacked transparency, he said.

“Behind this mysterious drama was an old-fashioned (tradition of) secrecy that ignores the nation’s people,” Hatoyama told the session. “This administration is wrapped double or even triple with falsehood.”

In response, Mori admitted to meetings taking place but said there was nothing inappropriate about the selection process.

“It is true that we were discussing the future framework of the ruling coalition (at hotels after Obuchi’s collapse), but we never discussed who would be the successor,” Mori told the session.

He added that he was selected prime minister by a vote in both Diet chambers, in line with relevant laws.

Hatoyama urged the Mori Cabinet, which he claims is a mere caretaker administration until the next general election, to immediately dissolve the Lower House so that its legitimacy can be judged by the voters.

He added, “The ruling camp could not help but pick a man (as prime minister) who would least disturb the power balance within the ruling coalition.”

Mori countered by saying that he reappointed all the former ministers from the Obuchi Cabinet in order to preserve the continuity of Obuchi’s policies and not to create even a moment of political vacuum.

In another matter, Hatoyama questioned Mori’s ability to carry out further economic deregulation, which he had pledged Friday in his policy speech before the Diet, pointing out that Mori was a key member of a group of LDP lawmakers that opposed deregulation until just a week ago.

For his part, Mori vowed to tackle economic structural reforms while striving to keep the economy on the road to recovery. As for the need for fiscal reconsolidation, the prime minister said it was a matter “that needs to be addressed swiftly” but only after it is confirmed that the nation is out of its economic doldrums.

The opposition leader also criticized the prime minister’s lack of recognition of human rights issues, citing a string of “discriminatory” remarks made by Mori in the past. He also charged that Mori never mentioned the phrase “human rights” in his policy speech.

Referring to his past remarks, which likened the United States to a nation where gangs run rampant, Okinawa to a prefecture dominated by communists and the city of Osaka to a spittoon, Mori maintained the media did not necessarily report his real intentions.

But Mori added he would apologize if his remarks have troubled some people.