Embattled Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, who narrowly survived a recent no-confidence motion, was dealt another serious blow Friday with the sudden resignation of Hiromu Nonaka, secretary general of his Liberal Democratic Party.

Nonaka, the LDP’s power broker, tendered his resignation in a meeting with Mori on Friday afternoon at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence.

During a subsequent meeting, Mori and other leaders of the ruling triumvirate urged Nonaka to remain in his post, where he had served as a linchpin in the coalition government. They finally accepted his decision, however, after acknowledging his utter determination to step down.

“My mind will not change even if they try to persuade me to stay,” Nonaka said before attending the meeting with the coalition leaders, who had originally gathered to discuss a Cabinet reshuffle scheduled for Tuesday.

Nonaka maintained that one of the reasons for his resignation was to take responsibility for what was perceived as the behind-the-scenes manipulation that took place before Mori was chosen by top LDP figures in April to succeed Keizo Obuchi, who suffered a stroke in office and died after he was replaced.

Nonaka also claimed that he wanted to clarify his responsibility for the results of the last Lower House election in June, in which the LDP-led coalition lost 60 seats.

Observers say the departure of Nonaka, who has been widely criticized for his role as a powerful back-room fixer, could lead to renewed calls from within the LDP for the unpopular Mori to step down prior to the next Upper House election in July.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda tried to defuse such speculation, telling reporters that Nonaka’s resignation “does not have the slightest connection” with the stability of the government.

Later in the evening, Mori appointed LDP Diet affairs chief Makoto Koga as the new party secretary general, while naming former chief Cabinet secretary Kanezo Muraoka as the party’s next Executive Council chairman. Muraoka replaces Sadatoshi Ozato, who abstained in a no-confidence vote introduced by the opposition against Mori’s Cabinet on Nov. 20.

Both Koga and Ozato immediately accepted the posts after being summoned to the prime minister’s office. Shizuka Kamei, the LDP’s top policy chief, will be retained, sources said.

Koga’s surprising promotion was attributed to Nonaka recommending him as his successor. Nonaka and Koga have worked together closely, particularly during their efforts to crush the rebellion of Koichi Kato, who leads the second largest LDP faction, to which Koga belongs, and who threatened to back the no-confidence motion.

Regarding the scheduled Cabinet reshuffle, which comes ahead of the planned reorganization of the bureaucracy on Jan. 6, Diet sources say the prime minister hopes to retain influential members who already hold key government posts. These include Finance Minister Kiichi Miyazawa, Foreign Minister Yohei Kono and Economic Planning Agency chief Taichi Sakaiya.

During Friday’s meeting, leaders of the coalition agreed to reshuffle the Cabinet on Tuesday, giving one Cabinet post each to New Komeito and the New Conservative Party, the LDP’s junior coalition partners.

Although Mori asked New Komeito leader Takenori Kanzaki and NCP chief Chikage Ogi to join the new Cabinet, Kanzaki declined the offer while Ogi is likely to continue serving as the construction minister.

Reflecting on the 72-day session which started with a three-week opposition boycott of Diet deliberations and ended with a no-confidence motion against Mori’s Cabinet, Nonaka said earlier in the morning that this year’s extraordinary session was “full of commotion.”

“Our party’s solidarity was tested (by the motion),” he said. “But I am grateful that the session ended without leaving deep scars (within the LDP).”

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