It has been four months since Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori launched his coalition government. Mori’s first Cabinet, inaugurated April 5, remained in office for less than three months before the general election was held June 25. He established his second Cabinet July 3.
So far, the Mori administration has few tangible achievements to its credit. The much ballyhooed Okinawa G8 summit, on which the administration staked its political future, turned into a political show with an all-star cast but with little substance. Gaffe-prone Mori made a few bad slips of the tongue during the election campaign. Immediately after the election, former Construction Minister Eiichi Nakao of Mori’s Liberal Democratic Party was arrested in connection with a payoff scandal. Then Kimitaka Kuze, chairman of the Financial Reconstruction Commission and a Mori appointee, was forced to resign for receiving illegal benefits and payments from companies.
Mori’s leadership qualities are in serious doubt. Recent opinion polls showed the Mori Cabinet’s approval ratings were in the 20-30 percent range and the disapproval ratings were in the 60-70 percent range. The ratings have little changed since the inauguration of the coalition government. This is highly abnormal. The polls also reflected overwhelming public disapproval of the coalition between the LDP and New Komeito, which is backed by Soka Gakkai, a lay Buddhist organization. The Mori administration, which is unlikely to receive much public support in the months ahead, could unravel anytime.
However, Mori is likely to enjoy a brief respite for the immediate future because the political world has been in summer recess since the short extraordinary Diet session closed. All pending bills will be carried over to the extraordinary Diet session in the autumn. This Diet session and the Upper House election scheduled for the early summer of 2001 will be crucial for the Mori administration.
The coming Diet session will focus on a bill banning influence peddling by lawmakers, a fiscal 2000 supplementary budget and the fiscal 2001 budget. Furthermore, drastic administrative reform, for reorganizing the central bureaucracy into 12 ministries and agencies, will be implemented from next January. In preparation for the reform, a major Cabinet reshuffle will take place in December. I believe that there is a good chance that political maneuvers over the reorganization could touch off a chain of events leading to Mori’s resignation and a change of government.
Should Mori succeed in riding out any yearend political turbulence, a change of government will be unlikely from the start of the ordinary Diet session next January because the Diet must approve the fiscal 2001 budget in March.
Another crisis for the government is likely to come in April, after the Diet approves the budget. With the Upper House election looming, pressure for a change of government could increase in the LDP on the ground that it will have little chance of winning the election under the incapable and unpopular Mori.
Potential causes of confusion and rebellion abound in the LDP and the coalition. First, the LDP has become increasingly divided since it lost its former monolithic strength. For example, there are signs that the largest LDP faction, once led by the late Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka, is splitting. The late Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita and the late Deputy Prime Minister Shin Kanemaru took over the faction after Tanaka was entangled in a major payoff scandal. Takeshita, former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and the later Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi led the faction in succession. After Obuchi and Takeshita died, Hashimoto regained leadership of the faction, but the group is losing strength. Many faction members resent the strong-arm tactics of LDP Secretary General Hiromu Nonaka, the behind-the-scenes manipulator of the Mori administration.
Another threat to LDP stability is posed by the “YKK group,” consisting of party stalwarts Taku Yamasaki, Koichi Kato and Junichiro Koizumi. Among the three, Kato is considered the top contender for the prime minister’s post, and the LDP leadership group is wary of his ambitions.
Hostility is also emerging between the old guard and younger lawmakers. After the general election, young LDP dissidents formed an association to oppose the dominance of the leadership group under Mori and Nonaka. Older lawmakers established a rival group.
Second, the LDP’s coalition partner New Komeito is distancing itself from the Mori administration and is developing independent policies. Naturally, the Democratic Party of Japan and other opposition parties are encouraged by signs that the LDP is weakening.
I believe that moves in the LDP, New Komeito and opposition could combine to build intense pressure for Mori’s ouster. There is a fair to good possibility for a sudden change of government before the yearend or, at the latest, next spring before the Upper House election.
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