The coalition government of Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori is clearly in a delicate situation. Should he make another serious mistake, Mori will be forced to resign. I had some hopes for Mori as prime minister, since the late Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe, a friend of mine, had praised his political acumen. Frankly, however, I have been disappointed.
Mori does not know what he is doing or talking about. Except for a few senseless postwar politicians who had ties with rightist extremists, I have never seen a political leader like Mori.
As prime minister, Mori first caused a political uproar when he said Japan was “a country of gods centering on the Emperor.” Then, in connection with the general election in June, Mori said he hoped that unaffiliated urban voters would sleep in on election day and refrain from going to the polls to give an advantage to the ruling coalition. But as prime minister, he should have urged the public to go to the polls.
Mori’s most recent gaffe came when he told British Prime Minister Tony Blair that he had suggested solving a dispute with Pyongyang over 10 Japanese allegedly abducted by North Korea by having them “found” in a third country.
As prime minister, Mori should never have made such remarks, yet he has never retracted them, saying they were misinterpreted. His refusal to take them back means they must reflect his true intentions. This is a serious problem.
His verbal blunder regarding a solution to the problem of the missing Japanese has slowed normalization talks between Tokyo and Pyongyang, which had been going smoothly following the rapprochement between North and South Korea.
Mori’s blunders have angered many Japanese who are usually tolerant of politicians’ mistakes. Mori made things worse when he went to a ballpark to watch a game between Waseda University, his alma mater, and Keio University a day after Chief Cabinet Secretary Hidenao Nakagawa was forced to resign over a scandal involving sex, drugs and ties with rightists. Newspaper offices and TV stations were flooded with protests over Mori’s conduct.
A recent public-opinion poll taken by a Japanese newspaper shows that the approval rating for the Mori Cabinet has plunged to 23 percent and that only 19 percent of those polled approved of the governing coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and the New Conservative Party.
The fall in popularity ratings had serious repercussions. First, a group of young Turks in the LDP urged Mori to resign. Then, many members at a Nov. 4 New Komeito convention expressed strong doubts about remaining in the coalition.
The LDP leadership group is desperately trying to prevent party members from giving up on Mori. The group, however, has failed in its attempt to lure dissident leaders Koichi Kato and Taku Yamasaki to join Mori’s new Cabinet, which will be formed in December in connection with the reorganization of the central bureaucracy. While Kato is unlikely to bolt the LDP in the manner of Liberal Party leader Ichiro Ozawa a few years ago, political turbulence is likely to increase.
A major challenge for the LDP is how to win the Upper House Election, which will be held in July, and when to dissolve the Lower House and call a national election.
The big question is how a new voting system in the proportional-representation section of Upper House polls will affect the election results. The LDP rushed the relevant electoral-reform bill to improve its own election prospects. The results could lead to a major political realignment.
I am most concerned over prospects that there will be no real opposition forces in Japanese politics as long as former LDP member Yukio Hatoyama remains the leader of the Democratic Party of Japan, the top opposition party.
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