• Jiji, staff report

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Amid a highly visible controversy over comments by former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, who has decided to step down as president of the Tokyo Organising Committee, there seems to have been no sign of current Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga stepping in to settle the furor.

Opposition parties have accused Suga of lacking leadership skills, and suggested there may be difficulties in his management of government.

Mori, who met with a firestorm of criticism for suggesting that women talk too much in meetings, announced his resignation Friday at a meeting of the organizing committee.

Regarding his reasons for quitting, Mori cited a chorus of criticism from Tokyo Games sponsor companies and Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike's decision to skip a four-party meeting between her, Mori, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach and Seiko Hashimoto, minister for the Tokyo Games, which was planned to be held later this month, according to sources with knowledge of the matter.

As a number of volunteers and torch relay runners withdrew their registrations to protest Mori's remarks and skepticism grew about the postponed Tokyo Games being held as planned, Suga continued to hold back from making proactive efforts to bring the situation under control.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is seen with Olympics minister Seiko Hashimoto at the Prime Minister's Office on Friday, before a Cabinet meeting. | KYODO
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is seen with Olympics minister Seiko Hashimoto at the Prime Minister’s Office on Friday, before a Cabinet meeting. | KYODO

Suga said Mori should not have made the remarks, but maintained that as prime minister he had no authority to persuade Mori to relinquish his post.

The Tokyo Organising Committee lists Suga on its website as being among its advisers, in a role described as supreme adviser and chairperson of the advisory group.

As a former national leader Mori has wide connections in the international community, and he is said to have a relationship of trust with Bach.

A senior official in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party had said Mori was irreplaceable in efforts for the Tokyo Games to take place this summer, after the event was postponed for a year due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Suga is likely to have shared this thinking.

In addition, Mori is a political doyen who still wields influence over the largest faction in the LDP. Unaffiliated and with no solid power base within the party, it seems Suga may have thought moving to force Mori out of the Tokyo Organising Committee would trigger a backlash from the faction, endangering his standing in the party.

A senior government official said Suga had seemed to be holding himself back out of respect for the faction.

After Mori's decision to quit came to light, a person close to Suga said the issue would be brought to a close. But another source within the party expressed concern that the prime minister may still be damaged by the situation.

Opposition parties are on the offensive, focusing on what they see as nonfeasance by Suga over Mori's controversial remarks.

At an online meeting with local members of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan on Thursday, CDP leader Yukio Edano criticized Mori's decision to step down as too slow.

Akira Koike, head of the secretariat of the Japanese Communist Party, said the prime minister needed to reflect deeply on his failure to take action, and apologize to the people.

Opposition parties are determined to grill Suga at a meeting of the House of Representatives Budget Committee on Monday and on other occasions.

For the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, Mori's exit may have more serious implications.

If the Tokyo Games are canceled after the resignation of the key coordinator, the Suga government will certainly be shaken.

"The prime minister should have persuaded Mori to resign earlier when the damage was lighter," said a lawmaker who previously served as a Cabinet minister. "If he had succeeded, there would have been a way to allow Mori to remain somehow in the organizing committee."

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