Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori inaugurated his new Cabinet, which maintained the basic structure of his old one, on Tuesday night after being re-elected to the nation’s top government post in the Diet earlier in the day.
With a series of high-profile Group of Eight meetings scheduled to begin Saturday — when finance ministers will meet in Fukuoka — that will culminate with the July 21-23 summit, Mori kept Kiichi Miyazawa on as finance minister and Yohei Kono as foreign minister.
To convey that economic policy would remain on the same track, he also reappointed Economic Planning Agency chief Taichi Sakaiya.
Among other Cabinet posts, Takeo Hiranuma became the new international trade and industry minister, Kozo Hirabayashi became posts and telecommunications minister and Hajime Morita took the post of transport minister.
The post of Defense Agency chief was given to Kazuo Torashima and that of Financial Reconstruction Commission chairman was given to Kimitaka Kuze.
Management and Coordination Agency chief Kunihiro Tsuzuki of New Komeito was also reappointed to ensure the smooth regrouping of government ministries and agencies, which is expected to take place Jan. 1.
Of the 18 members, 14 are new to the Mori Cabinet.
A majority of Lower House members voted to have Mori — president of the Liberal Democratic Party — keep the prime ministership as the Diet convened for a three-day special session. Mori was also re-elected prime minister by the Upper House.
Mori’s re-election was supported by the tripartite coalition parties — the LDP, New Komeito and the New Conservative Party — which combined hold a majority in both chambers despite their setback in the June 25 general election.
Mori collected 284 of the 479 votes cast in the 480-member House of Representatives, and 133 of the 242 cast in the 252-member House of Councilors.
His closest rival, Yukio Hatoyama of the Democratic Party of Japan, received 130 votes in the Lower House and 60 in the Upper House.
Tuesday’s voting was delayed for about 1 hour and 45 minutes due to a disagreement between the ruling and opposition camps over the election of the Lower House vice speaker.
After being re-elected prime minister in the Diet, Mori called his Cabinet appointees to the Prime Minister’s Official Residence on Tuesday evening. The new Cabinet ministers then attended an attestation ceremony at the Imperial Palace and the second Mori Cabinet was formally inaugurated Tuesday night.
In an effort to show leadership in the appointment process, Mori called on Yoriko Kawaguchi, a senior female executive at Suntory Ltd. to join the Cabinet. Kawaguchi was appointed as the new chief of the Environment Agency.
But the appointment process for the remaining Cabinet ministers was not so transparent, as much of the decision-making was done behind closed doors, with only LDP Secretary General Hiromu Nonaka and Hidenao Nakagawa, Mori’s choice for the pivotal role of Chief Cabinet Secretary, in attendance.
The secrecy that shrouded the usually noisy — and effectively open — nomination and selection process irked many senior LDP officials as well as party allies.
Many lawmakers who had been informally notified of their likely inclusion in the Cabinet did not know which government ministry or agency they were to be asked to serve in until Tuesday morning.
NCP chief Chikage Ogi was among the likely new ministers who expressed dissatisfaction with the selection process.
Ogi, who had expected to become either the education or labor minister, early Tuesday discovered that she would most likely be offered the construction portfolio — a position for which Mori suddenly and desperately needed a “clean” person following the bribery scandal that broke last week involving former Construction Minister Eiichi Nakao.
The sudden arrest of Nakao, who failed in his re-election bid in the June 25 election, and the opposition camp’s clamoring for Diet debate on the fiasco forced Mori and Nonaka to conduct thorough background checks on Cabinet hopefuls.
The formal start of Mori’s second Cabinet was marred by Diet problems as well, as the ruling and opposition camps locked horns over key personnel appointments in the Lower House.
The ruling bloc nominated Tamisuke Watanuki, a veteran LDP lawmaker, as Lower House speaker. By custom, the vice speaker of the chamber is usually nominated from the opposition camp and both are traditionally voted in unanimously.
But the coalition voted for Kozo Watanabe, a member of the minor party Mushozoku-no-kai, as Lower House vice speaker, instead of Hajime Ishii, a senior member of the Democratic Party of Japan, who had been nominated by the opposition.
The opposition camp, in retaliation, cast blank votes for Lower House speaker.
Backed by the strength of the coalition parties, Watanuki was elected as the new Lower House speaker and Watanabe was re-elected as Lower House vice speaker.
“The ruling coalition is resorting to force with its overwhelming strength. We cannot tolerate such an outrage caused by a personal grudge harbored by Nonaka,” DPJ President Hatoyama said.
Nonaka is widely believed to be strongly against the appointment of Ishii, who has long harassed Nonaka with persistent questions during past Diet deliberations.
Aoki sticks with story
Outgoing Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio Aoki on Tuesday continued to stick to his story regarding the collapse of late Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi and the subsequent transfer of power to Yoshiro Mori.
Aoki said he was “kept on the run” 24 hours a day for the 274 days he held the post, citing such emergency situations as Obuchi’s collapse from a stroke and the March eruption of Hokkaido’s Mount Usu.
As for doubts over whether Obuchi was able to clearly say that he wanted Aoki to serve as acting prime minister, as the chief Cabinet secretary has maintained, Aoki said, “What I have said is correct, from beginning to end.”
According to Aoki, Obuchi was taken to Juntendo University Hospital from the living quarters of the Prime Minister’s Official Residence in the early hours of April 2.
When Aoki visited him in the hospital later that day, Aoki says that he was told to “take care of everything,” which he interpreted as an order to serve as acting prime minister.
Opposition lawmakers later questioned the remark and Aoki’s description of the sequence of events, pointing to the fact that Obuchi slipped into a coma soon after Aoki’s visit.
Aoki and other top Liberal Democratic Party leaders later met and agreed that the party leadership should be transferred to then Secretary General Mori, who was later elected prime minister by the Diet.