A couple of weeks ago, Koichi Kato, former secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, appeared at a news conference at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo. Kato is receiving growing public attention as a potential contender for the post of prime minister to replace unpopular Yoshiro Mori.

The event was disappointing, contrary to my expectations that political journalists would ask some pointed questions to elicit interesting answers from Kato. He mostly engaged in lengthy discourse on his favorite subject of political culture.

Some journalists, including myself, met for a postmortem of the event. The gist of our discussion follows:

Retired journalist: “I was disappointed that journalists failed to elicit Kato’s views on how to deal with important political issues.”

Former journalist specializing in party affairs: “They did not ask a single question about focal issues. That was the problem.”

Political commentator: “Most LDP politicians say that under Mori’s leadership, the party will never win the Upper House election in July 2001 and the tripartite coalition might even lose the majority in the chamber. The big question is how to persuade Mori to resign before the election. Many LDP lawmakers are hoping that Mori will resign if police records prove, as alleged, that he was caught in a police raid on a brothel 42 years ago while he was a college student.”

Senior political commentator: “I am not so sure Mori will quit so easily. But if he agrees to quit, the LDP will need a strong contender for the post of prime minister, someone who everybody agrees will lead the party to an election victory. Kato is considered the strongest candidate, followed by Foreign Minister Yohei Kono and former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto. The question is when and how Kato will announce his candidacy for the post. It is strange that nobody asked a question about that.”

Former journalist: “Another important issue for the LDP concerns policy chief Shizuka Kamei, whose name is often mentioned in connection with questionable dealings. He has long wielded strong influence as a top lobbyist in public-works projects. He has been linked to a financial scandal involving Ishibashi Sangyo, a petroleum-products dealer. The case is now under investigation by the Tokyo Public Prosecutor’s Office. Strangely enough, he is leading a campaign to curb excessive public-works spending, responding to growing public opinion against pork-barrel politics. What are his true intentions? The people want to find out.”

(Everybody agreed that it was odd that nobody asked a question about the Kamei issue.)

Political commentator: “It looks as if the Mori administration’s survival depends on Kamei’s deceptive tactics.”

Young political commentator: “The LDP will have no choice but to support legislation banning influence peddling by lawmakers, a package promoted by Takenori Kanzaki, the leader of the LDP’s coalition partner, New Komeito. LDP Secretary General Hiromu Nonaka has already agreed to support it. More important is a call by a young LDP lawmakers’ group for an early LDP presidential election, which could expedite a change of government.”

Aside from my fellow journalists’ comments, an interesting development is a division among LDP members of the Chiba prefectural assembly. Some assembly members who have worked as lobbyists for business interests have formed an LDP splinter group, claiming urban-policy missteps by the LDP leadership in the prefecture have led to the party’s general-election setback. They are even demanding recognition as an LDP splinter group by the LDP headquarters, allegedly in connection with the upcoming gubernatorial election. I believe politics next year will depend to some extent on an LDP decision on this demand.

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