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The focal question in Japanese politics is how the 2001 Upper House election will turn out. Turn-of-the-century politics will hinge on whether the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and the New Conservative Party will retain its majority in the Upper House, or whether the opposition forces, led by the Democratic Party of Japan, will wrest a majority. New Komeito, as of now, says it will decide whether to remain in the coalition on the basis of the election results.

Most experts agree that under the poor leadership of Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, the ruling coalition will have little chance of winning the election. According to this theory, the opposition forces will likely grab a slim majority.

The only way for the ruling forces to improve their election prospects is to replace Mori with someone who inspires more public confidence, in connection with the scheduled extraordinary Diet session that opens this month.

Public support for Mori is weak, but the prime minister has shown few signs of soul-searching over his inept remarks. Most lawmakers in the Diet agree that Mori will have no chance of improving his popularity ratings or election prospects for the LDP.

Opposition leaders have expressed hope that Mori will remain in power until the election time; they believe they will have a better chance of beating the LDP if Mori stays in power. Many LDP politicians, on the other hand, hope that Mori will be replaced before the election.

In a surprising deviation from traditional pork-barrel politics, the LDP has announced a policy of seeking quick Diet approval of legislation banning influence peddling by lawmakers and has disclosed a plan to overhaul public-works projects. Furthermore, the LDP has proposed a new Upper House proportional-representation voting system in which voters cast ballots for candidates instead of political parties as at present.

Initially, I thought that these LDP proposals, which contain some loopholes, were intended to improve the LDP’s images in order to appeal to urban voters and win the Upper House election in July 2001 under Mori’s leadership, because it would be difficult for the LDP to replace Mori before then.

Later, however, I received more credible information through the political grapevine. According to my source, the major LDP faction led by former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto is intent on winning the election under a new prime minister. However, since Mori’s term as LDP president will run to September 2001, it is next to impossible to remove him from power before the election. Mori is also unlikely to resign voluntarily. The prime minister could, however, be forced to resign to take responsibility for a scandal if police records prove, as alleged, that he was caught in a police raid on a house of prostitution when he was a college student.

I trust the person who gave me the information. At the same time, I feel that Japanese politics should not be influenced by such dirty scandal-mongering. But the reality is that power struggles often involve dirty politics that have no regard for common sense or morals.

I have no way of predicting how the political tragicomedy will play out. One thing is certain, however: Today’s political realities are far removed from the clean and fair politics I once envisioned as a political journalist.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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