Most lawmakers of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party seem to agree on these points:

* The LDP will suffer a stunning setback in the Upper House election in July 2001, should Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori remain in power until then. The governing coalition of the LDP, New Komeito and the New Conservative Party could even lose its majority in the chamber.

* Mori should resign as prime minister to take blame for a scandal that may emerge before his term as LDP president expires in September 2001.

Mori’s debut as prime minister to replace Keizo Obuchi was engineered by the LDP faction headed by Obuchi. The appointment, aimed at impressing all the LDP groups with the faction’s kingmaking power and strengthening its influence, was worked out in a secretive back-room meeting of several high LDP officials. Mori’s fitness as prime minister was never questioned.

During the Lower House election campaign immediately after taking up his post, Mori made a series of anachronistic, right-leaning remarks, starting with a statement that Japan was “a nation of gods centering on the Emperor.”

Just before election day, Mori had the nerve to say he wished unaffiliated voters in urban areas (where supporters of the opposition forces were dominant) would choose not go to the polls. As prime minister, he should have encouraged voters to go to the polls by all means. Voters’ anger over that statement caused devastating losses for the LDP in urban areas.

The ruling tripartite coalition barely retained its majority in the Lower House, thanks to a scheme for cooperation in the election between the LDP and New Komeito. LDP Secretary General Hiromu Nonaka masterminded the plan.

Mori and his aides miserably failed in their attempt to take advantage of the high-profile Okinawa Summit of the Group of Eight nations in July in a bid to boost his Cabinet’s popularity. The government’s effort to cater to every need of Western journalists backfired. Most foreign newspapers reported that the 80 billion yen conference — the most expensive in summit history — achieved nothing concrete. The Japanese media also had few words of praise.

Then, in another blow to the LDP, former Construction Minister Eiichi Nakao was arrested in connection with a payoff scandal. As if that was not enough, Financial Construction Minister Kimitaka Kuze was forced to resign for receiving illegal benefits and payments from a bank and a home builder. Mori appointed Kuze to the Cabinet post even though he was aware of Kuze’s shady dealings.

All these problems indicate that Mori’s departure as prime minister could be hastened. Mori is assisted by young and capable aides, including Chief Cabinet Secretary Hidenao Nakagawa. I hope that these aides will give frank advice to Mori on his political conduct.

LDP schemers are hoping that Mori will resign before the Upper House election in July 2001 because the LDP is likely to lose the battle if it remains under Mori’s leadership. The top opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan, is hoping Mori remains at the helm of the LDP through the election. Mori, on the other hand, is unlikely to resign voluntarily at midterm. Many LDP officials are hoping that Mori will quit at midterm to take responsibility for a scandal that may emerge.

The sorry state of affairs surrounding Japan’s ruling party is really regrettable. I hope that former LDP Secretary General Koichi Kato, whose political aspirations have made headlines on and off, and a group of young, reform-minded LDP lawmakers, will take the initiative in the party.

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