FIVE MINISTERS ON ROSTER

Aoki named next in command if Mori unable to fulfill duties

Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori on Friday designated Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio Aoki to serve as acting prime minister should the prime minister be unable to carry out his duties.

During the day’s Cabinet meeting, Mori also named Foreign Minister Yohei Kono as second-in-line, followed by Construction Minister Masaaki Nakayama, International Trade and Industry Minister Takashi Fukaya and Defense Agency chief Tsutomu Kawara, Aoki told a news conference.

The arrangement stands only for Mori’s current Cabinet; successive prime ministers will draw up their own list when they name their Cabinets, the top government spokesman said.

The chief Cabinet secretary was designated acting prime minister in advance “because he or she works very closely with the prime minister in the national administration,” he explained. “The government selected the ministers and decided on the order in light of their experiences as a minister and a Diet member.”

All the designated ministers belong to Mori’s Liberal Democratic Party. The Cabinet includes one member from both New Komeito and the New Conservative Party, the LDP’s coalition partners.

Aoki said there was “no special reason” why Finance Minister Kiichi Miyazawa, a former prime minister, was not included in the list.

“This was the prime minister’s decision,” Aoki said.

Under the current system, the prime minister must appoint the acting prime minister.

The system was called into question after Aoki revealed that he was named acting prime minister even though his predecessor, Keizo Obuchi, had not asked him specifically to take the post before falling into a coma.

Until Mori was elected prime minister on April 5, Aoki had served as acting prime minister for about three days after claiming that Obuchi had asked him to accept the post as he lay on a hospital bed before being moved into an intensive care unit.

Aoki also said at the news conference that the government is still working on measures to improve medical services at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence and private home.

“This is not something that can be drawn up in one or two days,” he said.

Poll hinges on economy

Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori said Friday the nation’s economy holds the key to his decision on when to call a general election.

“The public’s perception of the economic situation . . . will be a big factor in the fate of the election results,” Mori said in an interview with CNN. “If there is to be an election it will be important that there is a perception that the economy is going in a good direction.”

A general election must be held by mid-October, when the four-year term for House of Representative members expires. The prime minister can dissolve the chamber anytime.

Senior officials of the Liberal Democratic Party have suggested June 18 and June 25 as possible dates for the poll.

Mori said there were bright spots in the nation’s economy but reiterated he will stick to the aggressive fiscal policy taken by his predecessor, Keizo Obuchi, until a recovery takes hold.

“We need to see a transfer from public demand to private demand. Until that time I plan to continue the current policies,” Mori said.