Chief Cabinet secretary to take over in an emergency

The chief Cabinet secretary is likely to become acting prime minister in the event of an emergency in which the prime minister is unable to carry out his duties, government sources said Wednesday.

The government is to clarify the chain of command and under the new framework, which is likely to be approved at a Cabinet meeting in the near future, the chief Cabinet secretary would be the first in line for the post of acting prime minister in the event of an emergency, the sources said.

Other Cabinet ministers would also be selected as possible candidates to serve as acting prime minister and would be ranked in advance to determine the order in which they would assume the post, they added.

The need to clarify how an acting prime minister would be designated in the event of an emergency was highlighted earlier this month when then Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi deteriorated into a coma after suffering a stroke.

Although Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio Aoki assumed the post of acting prime minister, the opaque way in which the decision was made has been criticized by opposition lawmakers.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday morning, Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori said it was appropriate that the chief Cabinet secretary be designated as first in line for the acting prime ministership as that person is also the government’s top spokesperson.

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Fukushiro Nukaga told a regular news conference the same day that while the actual designation should be made by the prime minister at the time, “it would be better to have a solid framework in advance.”

“I believe that the chief Cabinet secretary, who assists the prime minister on a comprehensive basis, is best qualified,” he said.