Despite the setback that the ruling bloc suffered at the hands of the public in Sunday’s election for the House of Representatives, top leaders of the Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition allies agreed Monday that Yoshiro Mori should stay on as prime minister.
Mori, president of the LDP, confirmed with his counterparts from New Komeito and the New Conservative Party that a special three-day Diet session to re-elect him as prime minister should be convened on July 4. Mori will form his new Cabinet the same day.
At a news conference Monday afternoon, Mori said he intends to reappoint Foreign Minister Yohei Kono and Finance Minister Kiichi Miyazawa to the Cabinet to prepare for the Group of Eight summit in Okinawa next month.
In the election, the LDP-led ruling triumvirate suffered serious losses but still managed to retain a comfortable majority in the Lower House.
One sign of the poor support for Mori’s Cabinet was the LDP’s inability to hold on to a simple majority; it won only 233 of the 480 seats in the Lower House, compared with the 271 it had in the 500-seat chamber before the election. The number of Lower House seats was reduced by 20 in the election, due to electoral reforms.
Its allies also suffered setbacks, with New Komeito seeing its seats cut to 31 from its pre-election strength of 42 and the New Conservative Party winning only seven seats, compared with 18 before the election.
The coalition managed to hold on to 271 seats, exceeding the 269 that would allow it to secure a majority in all the standing committees of the Lower House and simultaneously chair them, ensuring that Diet proceedings will be smooth for the alliance. It does, however, mark a serious setback from the 336-seat presence the alliance previously held.
Mori told reporters that he “naturally considers (himself) responsible” for the LDP’s loss of nearly 40 seats.
But he also pointed out that he took the fact that the alliance had secured a majority as the “will of the voters that the three parties should remain at the helm of the government.” He indicated that he may ask a top-ranking member of New Komeito and New Conservative Party chief Chikage Ogi to join his new Cabinet to solidify the alliance.
In a subsequent meeting with Ogi and New Komeito chief Takenori Kanzaki, Mori apologized for the poor performance of their parties, which was due largely to their failure to coordinate the campaigns of the ruling bloc.
Kanzaki and Ogi pledged their continued support for the coalition framework, as well as Mori’s leadership.
“The election results showed that our coalition and solidarity are trusted by the people,” Kanzaki reportedly told Mori. “In order to meet the people’s expectation, we should unite even more and support the prime minister as we carry out the tasks ahead.”
Ogi proposed that her party and the LDP form a united parliamentary group — a move seen as a step toward its merger with the LDP — but the proposal was immediately declined by LDP Secretary General Hiromu Nonaka, who also attended the meeting.
“There could be such an option in the future, but it’s certainly not an issue we should discuss right now,” Nonaka told reporters after the talks.
Later in the day, former LDP Secretary General Koichi Kato and former top police official Taku Yamasaki — two prominent senior members of the LDP who have been critical of the current alliance with New Komeito — expressed support for Mori’s continued prime ministership. Kato told a meeting of his own faction within the LDP that he now approves of the current tripartite alliance.
Mori is expected to ask Kato and Yamasaki, who have detached themselves from the party leadership since they were defeated by the late Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi in the LDP presidential race last September, to cooperate in his management of the party.
In contrast with the setbacks experienced by the ruling coalition, the opposition Democratic Party of Japan boosted its seats from 95 to 127. DPJ leader Yukio Hatoyama said the result “marks a solid step in the (DPJ’s) path toward becoming a governing power.”
Hatoyama also told reporters Monday morning, “Is it true that the people want the Mori administration to go on? We will press the LDP to answer that question.”
Most of the other opposition parties gained as well. While the Japanese Communist Party saw its seats fall to 20 from the 26 it held before the election, the Liberal Party, which left the coalition in April, improved over its pre-election strength of 18 to win 22 seats.
The Social Democratic Party, halting a long-term trend of steady decline that had continued for most of the past decade, went up from 14 to 19.
With support confirmed for Mori’s continued leadership, the attention of coalition lawmakers is shifting to the lineup of his new Cabinet and LDP executive posts.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio Aoki has voiced his intention to stand down, and Mori is widely expected to appoint his close aide — Hidenao Nakagawa, currently deputy LDP secretary general — to the post.
Mori will appoint one Cabinet member each from New Komeito and the New Conservative Party, party sources said.
Tamisuke Watanuki, chairman of the LDP faction formerly led by the late Keizo Obuchi, is seen as a likely candidate for Lower House speaker.
Meanwhile, senior members of New Komeito agreed that Kanzaki should remain as the party’s chief, while Tetsuzo Fuyushiba should remain secretary general, despite its losses in Sunday’s election.
Judges win approval
All nine judges appointed to the Supreme Court since the previous general election in October 1996 won the confidence of the voting public in a poll held in conjunction with Sunday’s House of Representatives election, the Central Election Management Council said Monday.
Voters who turned out at polling stations nationwide were also asked whether any of the nine top court judges should be demoted.
For all the judges up for national review, far more voters left their ballots blank than those who wrote an “X” by the names of judges they want removed from the Supreme Court, council officials said.
Tsugio Kameyama received the most votes of disapproval at 10.29 percent, while Toshifumi Motohara had the least percentage of voters, 8.65 percent, wanting him demoted from the court, according to council officials.
The seven other judges — Takao Oide, Akira Machida, Toshihiro Kanatani, Masamichi Okuda, Shigeru Yamaguchi, Gen Kajitani and Hiroharu Kitagawa — had disapproval rates of between 8 percent and 10 percent, the officials said.
A total of 60,750,994 people, or 60.49 percent of eligible voters, cast ballots in the national review of Supreme Court judges, up 2.93 percentage points from 1996.
It marked the 18th in a series of such reviews, which started in 1949.
None of the combined 133 judges subjected to the national review has been demoted, with the highest disapproval rating to date being 15.2 percent. Demotion requires a majority of disapproval among valid votes.