Yoshiro Mori, who replaced a comatose Keizo Obuchi as prime minister, inaugurated his Cabinet April 5. The Obuchi Cabinet resigned en masse April 4, after Obuchi suffered a stroke and was hospitalized. All Cabinet members, except Obuchi, retained their posts.
The government and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party will do everything possible to minimize political chaos. However, further turbulence is likely in coming months: The Group of Eight holds a summit in Okinawa in July and the Lower House must be dissolved for a snap election, before the sitting members complete their terms Oct. 19.
Speculation is growing that a general election will be held in May, after the “Golden Week” holidays. Before the present turmoil, there had been widespread expectations that the election would be held immediately after the summit, or immediately before the Lower House members complete their terms.
It is uncertain if the Mori administration will be a stopgap or a government with a long life. It will all depend on when the Lower House will be dissolved and how the LDP fares in the election.
For the past week, Japan has experienced a major natural disaster and political upheaval. Mount Usu, a volcano in Hokkaido, erupted March 31 and is continuing volcanic activities. Obuchi and Liberal Party leader Ichiro Ozawa, meanwhile, held 11th-hour talks April 1 over Ozawa’s threat to leave the tripartite ruling coalition, which is led by the LDP and also includes New Komeito. The late-night talks broke down, and Obuchi announced a decision to annul an LDP-LP tieup.
In the predawn hours of April 2, Obuchi was hospitalized after suffering a stroke. He went into coma April 3, forcing his Cabinet to resign April 4. On April 5, the Diet elected Mori, LDP secretary general, as prime minister.
The LP was split into two. The LP under Ozawa left the ruling coalition, while a splinter group formed the Conservative Party under the leadership of female lawmaker Chikage Ogi and joined the alliance. Toshihiro Nikai, a former LP member, joined the Conservative Party and kept his post as transport minister in the new Cabinet. The Mori administration is based on a new coalition of the LDP, New Komeito and the Conservative Party.
The new administration will work hard to quell the political disturbance that followed Obuchi’s collapse and will seek the enactment of a series of legislative packages in the current Diet session scheduled to end June 16. At the same time, the administration is likely to stress its cooperation with the Conservative Party and de-emphasize relations with New Komeito. There has been strong public criticism of the LDP’s cozy relations with New Komeito, which is backed by the mass Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai.
Another problem for the Mori administration concerns the G8 summit. Obuchi has been actively pushing the summit as its host. Mori has little diplomatic experience and it remains to be seen if he will successfully host the summit in cooperation with Foreign Minister Yohei Kono, his political rival.
Domestic politics was more important than international concerns in the inauguration of the Mori administration, coming as it did during a political emergency. It is uncertain if the new government will receive international approval.
The Mori administration’s political fortune hinges on when the prime minister will dissolve the Lower House for a general election, and how the LDP will perform in the election.
In the administration and the LDP, opinion is gaining ground that the sooner the election is held, the more advantage the LDP will have. Many officials say Obuchi’s misfortune is stirring sympathy among voters and the LDP should not miss a good opportunity for an election. The question is when that will be — May, June or around the G8 summit in July. It is up to Mori to make this difficult decision.
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