Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori said Thursday that he will decide on the timing of general elections after considering how the economy will look in June, and later indicated the ruling coalition parties will discuss the matter next week.
During an interview with The Japan Times, Mori reiterated that one of the biggest tasks before him now is to ensure that a full-scale economic recovery takes place. He also indicated that economic conditions would be a key factor in determining whether the elections will be held in June, as is widely speculated.
“A good atmosphere (in the economy) is important for elections. I want to closely study whether such an atmosphere will exist in June,” the prime minister said.
He added that waiting for the release — probably in early June — of gross domestic product figures for the January-March quarter may be too late to make the call.
After the interview, the prime minister met with key aides — Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio Aoki and Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Hiromu Nonaka — and said he would meet with the leaders of the other two ruling parties to discuss the issue of election timing.
According to Nonaka, Mori said such a meeting with New Komeito head Takenori Kanzaki and New Conservative Party leader Chikage Ogi “should be held next week.” Coalition sources later said that the powwow may be set for as early as Tuesday.
In response, Nonaka and Aoki said they would leave the matter in Mori’s hands and pledged their full cooperation and support, Nonaka later told reporters.
During the interview, which was conducted at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence, Mori maintained that important tasks lie ahead of him. Mori was moved into the prime ministership after Keizo Obuchi suffered a stroke earlier this month, leaving him in a coma.
Obuchi left a long list of policy matters that need to be addressed, and Mori said he is obliged to follow the policy course charted by his predecessor.
“To be honest, I cannot afford to think about the timing of elections right now,” Mori said.
Two major tasks that have preoccupied the prime minister’s mind are steering the economy on the right track and to work for fiscal reform, he added.
The economy, while showing signs of recovery, remains weak, especially in the area of personal consumption. It is uncertain if the Obuchi administration’s target of 0.6 percent real growth in fiscal 1999, which ended March 31, will be achieved, judging from the latest growth figures.
Mori said he will continue to put priority on ensuring economic recovery. “I definitely have to promote fiscal reform in the future,” he said, but added, “For now, I think it is important to focus on economic recovery.”
Although speculation is rife that senior officials of his Liberal Democratic Party have pinned down a date for general elections — either June 18 or June 25 — Mori maintained he has yet to decide upon a time. A general election must be held by October, when the terms of incumbent Lower House members expire.
Following Obuchi’s foreign policy course, Mori will visit Russia on April 28 for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Through the talks, Mori said he wants to confirm the new Russian president’s views about a series of previous agreements reached by the two nations’ leaders, he said.
Mori also expressed his intention to make sure the two nations’ continue efforts to resolve their territorial dispute by the end of the year, as previously agreed upon.
The prime minister said he feels offended when it is said of him that he presents few original ideas, adding that he believes following Obuchi’s policy line is only natural as a leader who unexpectedly succeeded one who has become incapacitated.