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Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori launched his new Cabinet Tuesday on the strength of an absolute majority won by the coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and the Conservative Party in the June 25 Lower House election.

Immediately before the inauguration of the second Mori Cabinet, several political journalists, including myself, met with former Lower House Vice Speaker Kozo Watanabe to discuss effects of the election on Japanese politics. Watanabe, a former member of the LDP faction once headed by the late Prime Ministers Kakuei Tanaka and Noboru Takeshita, successfully ran in the general election as an independent and was re-elected to the vice speaker’s post Tuesday.

Watanabe made the following points:

* The top opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan, made substantial gains but the LDP scored barely passable results. The Mori administration failed to win voters’ confidence.

* Among the opposition forces, the moribund Liberal Party revived itself with generous campaign funds and effective campaign ads. The Social Democratic Party also made solid gains, thanks to party leader Takako Doi’s strong determination to protect the Peace Constitution.

* The lack of substantive policy debate in the campaign was disturbing. Past trends were reversed, however, when a few former Cabinet ministers lost their seats. This was a surprising development because lawmakers with ministerial experience usually have an advantage in elections.

* The fact that some candidates were elected on the basis of their youth and personal appearance, which have nothing to do with politics, was deplorable.

* It was dismaying that Japanese politics and the nation’s power structure remain unchanged, even after the Mori Cabinet failed to win a vote of confidence from the public.

This problem stems from the fact that the electoral system combines single-seat constituencies and proportional representation sections. If this problem remains unsolved, Japan’s parliamentary politics could collapse.

* Watanabe vowed to work hard to promote a change to a multiseat or single-seat electoral system. He also wants to help realistic and conscientious LDP and DPJ lawmakers join forces to form a new government.

The journalists who accompanied me agreed that since the governing coalition held an absolute majority in the Diet, there was no way to remove Mori from power. Our discussion then shifted to the conservative political community’s concern about ways of preventing a serious setback for the Mori administration — whose approval rating plunged to a dismal 27 percent in a recent media poll — in the Upper House election scheduled for next year.

Asked about the possibility of the LDP reforming itself or changing its coalition partners, Watanabe reiterated his pledge to help conscientious LDP and DPJ politicians establish a government that meets public expectations.

Some journalists speculated that the latest government payoff scandal, in which former Construction Minister Eiichi Nakao was arrested, could implicate top LDP executives with close links to the construction industry. Should this happen, the LDP leadership group could collapse, marking a political turning point that would eventually lead to the change in government that Watanabe is hoping for.

The new Mori Cabinet, formed against the background of speculation about the nation’s political future, included few surprises. The Cabinet roster, which reflected the LDP’s factional balance of power, was based on requests for ministerial appointments from individual factions. We were impressed, however, with Watanabe’s re-election as Lower House vice speaker, despite objections by the opposition forces.

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