Commentary / World

Patient, clever Mori comes into his own

by Ryuichiro Hosokawa

Yoshiro Mori, who replaced Keizo Obuchi as prime minister after Obuchi suffered a stroke and went into coma, is a very lucky man. As secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, Mori was a loyal aide to Obuchi, who had recently suffered a sharp drop in popularity. Mori firmly believes in the philosophy of “endurance for the sake of pride” espoused by Fukuzawa Yukichi, a 19th century philosopher-educator and founder of what is now Keio University.

In the last LDP presidential election, Mori announced support for Obuchi’s re-election bid early in the campaign, while rivals Koichi Kato and Taku Yamasaki received wide media coverage. In the election, Obuchi crushed Kato and Yamasaki, who were seeking media exposure in order to stake a claim to future party leadership. Obuchi attributed his victory to Mori’s loyal support.

Mori, who did plan to seek the party leadership eventually, chose not to compete with Obuchi. Kato and Yamasaki lost because they acted too hastily. Mori is a farsighted schemer. Kato and Yamasaki were never mentioned as possible replacements for the ailing Obuchi.

A heavyset man weighing more than 100 kg, Mori is reputed to have a “flea’s heart” — a reference to his indecisiveness. He has served as LDP secretary general, policy chief and executive board chairman. As secretary general, he has had to supervise all LDP politicians and conduct negotiations with other political parties. The job is stressful and requires close attention to detail.The fact that Mori has handled his LDP jobs well appears to belie the charge of indecisiveness.

The new prime minister’s immediate challenge is to get the economy back on track. In the longer term, he must lead a national effort to correct the moral decay in Japanese society, which has been hit by waves of murders and other serious crimes.

There is mounting speculation in Nagata-cho that the Lower House will be dissolved in June for a general election. The election results will obviously affect the political fortune of the Mori administration.

Mori, who assumed the LDP presidency April 5, will serve out the remainder of Obuchi’s term, i.e. until Sept. 30, 2001. If the economy recovers in that time, Mori has a good chance of being re-elected. If he is, he will serve as LDP president and prime minister until Sept. 30, 2003. I believe it will be difficult for Kato or Yamasaki to wrest the party leadership from Mori. If they are to survive politically, they have no choice but to cooperate with his administration.

If Mori stays in good health and nothing untoward happens, his administration could remain in power until 2005. He would then be 68. Mori could rule Japan for a long time because he has no powerful rivals for the LDP presidency. Eisaku Sato, who replaced Hayato Ikeda as prime minister in the 1960s, ruled Japan for seven years and eight months, because he had no rivals. The Mori administration could last just as long, for similar reasons.