Mr. Yoshiro Mori, former secretary general of the governing Liberal Democratic Party, on Wednesday succeeded Mr. Keizo Obuchi, the former prime minister, who has been incapacitated by a stroke since Sunday. The new prime minister has retained all members of the second coalition-Cabinet, which Mr. Obuchi launched early last October.
This indicates that the Cabinet led by Prime Minister Mori is not expected to remain in power over a long period. The Mori Cabinet appears to be stepping in as a stopgap government to steer the nation until a heavyweight administration can assume power following general elections for the House of Representatives. A sense of crisis in the LDP following Mr. Obuchi’s collapse led party leaders to bury differences and cooperate to avoid creating a political vacuum. They should be commended for moving swiftly to ensure a smooth changing of the guard, helping to compensate for the nation’s lack of an institutionalized crisis-management structure.
Essentially a conservative, Mr. Mori, 62, leads the third-largest faction of conservative politicians, and has filled a number of important Cabinet posts, serving as construction minister, education minister and minister of international trade and industry. He is believed to be one of the most appropriate leaders in the party, one whom party members can agree on to serve as a coordinator, if not as a commander. Such an assessment of the new prime minister contributes to the prevailing view that his Cabinet will end up playing a caretaker role. It is premature, however, to characterize his administration as such. Election results will determine whether he will go down in the nation’s political annals as the head of a stopgap government or whether he will be able to govern for a longer period. The Lower House elections, which will be held sometime before Oct. 19, will be the most important determinant of his administration’s fate.
In both the new administration and the LDP, opinion is gaining ground that the ruling parties would benefit by hastening a dissolution of the Lower House for general elections. Advocates of such a view expect that public sympathy over Mr. Obuchi’s illness will favorably influence the voters. It is Mr. Mori himself who will have to decide when will be the best time: May, June or before or after the G8 Kyushu-Okinawa summit meeting late in July. Mr. Mori will have his ability to weigh public sentiment tested when he makes the decision.
The most urgent but comparatively long-term task left behind by Mr. Obuchi, however, is the revitalization of the Japanese economy, which also will be one of the main topics for discussion at the upcoming G8 summit. Mr. Mori has stressed that his administration will follow his predecessor’s policy of giving priority to economic revitalization. But soaring fiscal deficits have already been affecting the implementation of economic expansionist measures. Time is limited, as is Mr. Mori’s elbow room, but his administration must take steps to set the Japanese economy on a track of stable growth. Implementing measures in time depends on the fate of legislative bills to give substance to the fiscal 2000 budget, which passed the Diet before March 31, the end of the previous fiscal year. At the latest, these bills must be made into law before the Lower House is dissolved for elections. Failure to achieve this will doom the new administration, no matter when the general elections are held.
Experienced senior Cabinet members such as Finance Minister Kiichi Miyazawa will play an essential role in helping Mr. Mori to deal with these economic problems. Foreign Minister Yohei Kono is also expected to help Mr. Mori successfully host the G8 summit as well as to assist with other key diplomatic issues, including the resumed talks on normalization with North Korea. The continuation of their services in critical posts will boost public confidence in the new Cabinet.
Yet another major task for Mr. Mori is to consolidate the foundations of the tripartite coalition, which was shaken by the departure of over half the Liberal Party members, led by Mr. Ichiro Ozawa, from the ruling alliance. Now the coalition is made up of the LDP, New Komeito and the Conservative Party, which was formed by former LP members. The three coalition partners do not necessarily completely agree on basic political philosophy and key policies. The original coalition was formed primarily to win the “numbers game” in the Diet, a strategy that has drawn public criticism. Mr. Mori must take the initiative in working out a governing alliance that can be endorsed by the voters.
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