A showdown that may oust Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and split the ruling Liberal Democratic Party will come Monday, when the House of Representatives votes on a no-confidence motion against his Cabinet.
Officials of the four major opposition parties announced Friday they will jointly submit the no-confidence motion to the Lower House on Monday afternoon, prior to the scheduled approval of a supplementary budget by the Lower House Budget Committee.
LDP leaders rose to the challenge — and to the threat posed by Koichi Kato and other LDP members who plan to support the motion — by saying the ruling camp will open the Lower House plenary session Monday evening to vote on the motion.
Mori returned to Tokyo late Friday afternoon from the summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Brunei and immediately held a series of meetings with top LDP officials as well as leaders of the two junior coalition parties.
“I have left everything in the hands of Secretary General (Hiromu Nonaka),” Mori said in addressing top coalition officials. “I would like everyone to stick together so that we can (continue taking steps to) boost the economy.”
Participants said the gatherings confirmed that the junior coalition parties would vote against the no-confidence motion and remain faithful to the current LDP leadership, regardless of the outcome.
Takenori Kanzaki, head of New Komeito, told Mori that his party would close ranks in dealing with the no-confidence motion.
Mori himself told a gathering of the New Conservative Party, the other ruling bloc member, at a Tokyo hotel that he felt “a sense of helplessness” at the current situation.
Earlier in the day, Kato made it clear he will vote in favor of the opposition-proposed motion.
“I think my comrades will follow me,” he said. “I am 100 percent confident that we will win the battle.”
Kato also repeated his stance that he will remain in the LDP even if he breaks ranks during Monday’s vote.
His closest ally within the party, former party policy affairs chief Taku Yamasaki, echoed Kato’s remarks, saying Friday that he too would back the no-confidence motion.
Yamasaki also shared Kato’s view that his actions would not lead to his ouster from the LDP.
Kato, head of the LDP’s second-largest faction, threw down the gauntlet to Mori and the LDP’s so-called mainstream factions by openly asking Mori to bow out due to his flagging popularity.
LDP heavyweights are set to strike the names of Kato and his followers from the party roster should they vote for the motion.
While Nonaka emphasized that the party’s principal groups will unite to vote down the motion, he also admitted the turmoil may lead to the dissolution of the chamber and a general election.
“We will act by taking into consideration the possibility that the Lower House could be dissolved anytime soon to seek the judgment of the people,” Nonaka told reporters.
He later said that those LDP lawmakers planning to vote in favor of the critical motion should first leave the party before the vote is taken, adding that those who do not would be expelled if they support it or abstain for any other reason apart from illness.
Nonaka also said he has made preparations for a general election, should the no-confidence vote be passed and the Lower House dissolved.
Cabinet members from the Kato faction were perplexed by his revolt against the administration. Finance Minister Kiichi Miyazawa and Transport Minister Hajime Morita announced they will not vote with Kato.
“As a Cabinet member, I will vote against the no-confidence motion,” Miyazawa told a regular news conference, adding that it is morally wrong for a minister to oppose the Cabinet he is serving on. Miyazawa is in the delicate position of being Mori’s top fiscal policy operator and a member of Kato’s faction.
Morita showed a cautious stance Friday, saying he will neither vote for or against the motion as he is a member of Mori’s Cabinet. He said that after the voting is completed, he will act “as a member of the (Kato) faction.” He did not elaborate.
Should the no-confidence motion pass, the Cabinet would have to resign or Mori would have to dissolve the chamber and call a general election within 10 days.
Meanwhile, Naoto Kan, secretary general of the DPJ, said that Kato would have to leave the LDP if the opposition is to vote for him in any Diet vote to select the next prime minister.
The opposition camp holds 190 of the 480 Lower House seats. Although LDP members in the factions led by Kato and his longtime ally, Taku Yamasaki, total 64, it is unclear how many of them will join Kato’s revolt.
No aspirations: Kono
Foreign Minister Yohei Kono denied Friday that he has aspirations to replace Yoshiro Mori as prime minister.
“I am the foreign minister in Prime Minister Mori’s Cabinet, so my aim is to fulfill my responsibilities as foreign minister,” Kono said. “Japan’s foreign affairs are very important at this time, so I am not thinking about anything else.”
Koichi Kato, a former secretary general of the LDP, the No. 2 party post, has called for Mori’s resignation and said Friday he will vote for a no-confidence motion against Mori’s Cabinet, which is expected to be submitted by opposition parties Monday.
Kato reportedly hopes to take the top post from Mori, but media reports have also mentioned Kono as one of a handful of candidates to replace Mori if he is forced out.
Kono criticized Kato’s action, saying it could have influenced the result of the Naha mayoral election in Okinawa last Sunday and may adversely affect debate beginning in the Diet next week on the supplementary budget for this fiscal year.
The Naha poll was won by conservative independent Takeshi Onaga, backed by the ruling triumvirate — the LDP, New Komeito and New Conservative Party — ending 32 years of uninterrupted leftist and reformist rule.
The foreign minister said he cannot understand why Kato, who formerly held such a senior post within the LDP, would continue to say such things — especially when Mori is abroad.
Kono expressed hope that the LDP will unite in resolving issues that affect people’s livelihoods, referring to deliberations on the supplementary budget that was submitted to the Diet last week.
“As a Diet member, especially one of the ruling party, I understand the importance of the supplementary budget. I hope the party will unite in working on having the budget approved,” Kono said.