On July 4, Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori launched his new coalition Cabinet consisting of the Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and the New Conservative Party. The event, following the June 25 general election, would have been an occasion for celebration and hope under ordinary circumstances but was greeted with severe criticism at home and abroad. Some pundits predicted that the administration would last for five months at most, citing the following reasons:

First, the LDP won only 233 seats in the 480-seat Lower House in the election, far short of the majority of 241 and down 38 from its pre-election strength of 271. New Komeito won only 31 seats and the New Conservative Party seven, both down 11 from their pre-election strength. The three coalition partners managed to retain a total of 271 seats but saw their combined strength decrease by 60. New Komeito, whose setback is widely blamed on its campaign cooperation with the LDP, is unhappy with the election results and is moving to distance itself from the coalition.

Second, some LDP lawmakers are sharply critical of Mori for making a series of inept remarks and for demonstrating little leadership during the campaign. In addition, they blame LDP Secretary General Hiromu Nonaka for the disastrous election setback the party suffered in urban areas. Young LDP politicians formed a group July 5 to criticize the party’s old guard. The LDP leadership under Mori and Nonaka faces strong criticism from within and outside the party.

Third, after Japan hosts the Group of Eight summit in Okinawa late this month, an extraordinary Diet session will open July 28 for debate on the scandal involving former Construction Minister Eiichi Nakao, who was arrested immediately after the election on suspicion of receiving payoffs from a construction company. The debate is also likely to cover the aborted bailout of Sogo, the privately-owned department store chain, with public funds. The LDP will face tough opposition questioning and it is doubtful if Mori, whose fitness as prime minister is in doubt, and members of his Cabinet will be able to survive the opposition’s grilling.

Fourth, recent opinion polls showed the public is harshly critical of the Mori administration and the LDP. In most media polls, the Mori Cabinet’s approval ratings were in the 20-25 percent range. Disapproval ratings were higher than 60 percent. These ratings were unprecedentedly severe for a new Cabinet formed after a general election.

In addition, the polls showed the approval ratings for the top opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan, rose to around 25 percent, compared with 30-40 percent for the LDP. This is quite a change from recent years, when the LDP enjoyed approval ratings of more than 40 percent against less than 20 percent for the DPJ. With trouble brewing inside and outside the party, the Mori administration faces a difficult future.

Predictions of a five-month life for the Mori administration could be mistaken. However, the administration is likely to face a test of survival around the time of the New Year holiday season, since the economy is clouded by uncertainties over consumer spending and employment.

Important political and economic questions include how long Japan will maintain the present de facto zero interest-rate policy and whether the government will compile a fiscal 2000 supplementary budget in the autumn.

The administration will then face the challenges of compiling a fiscal 2001 budget and reorganizing the central bureaucracy into one office and 12 ministries and agencies, effective next Jan. 6, under an administrative reform program. It is uncertain if the administration will have the political strength to deal with the problems. Nothing is certain in politics.

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