Infighting in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party is intensifying. Former Secretary General Koichi Kato is demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, citing his low approval ratings. Tension is also building outside the LDP now that major opposition parties are set to present a no-confidence motion against the Mori Cabinet in a Lower House plenary session today. The political landscape could change; it all depends on how the vote turns out.
A showdown — between mainstream and nonmainstream LDP factions, as well as between the ruling and opposition parties — seems inevitable. Mr. Kato, leader of the second-largest LDP faction, has made it clear that he will support the opposition motion. Members of his group and other pro-Kato LDP legislators are expected to follow suit.
The mainstream factions of the LDP that back the prime minister — the Hashimoto, Mori and Eto-Kamei groups — are determined to defeat the motion. Mr. Mori himself has emphasized that he will face the challenge squarely. Party executives have warned that if the motion carries, the Lower House will be dissolved to call a general election, and that those who side with the opposition will be expelled from the party. The other two ruling parties — New Komeito and the New Conservative Party — are rallying behind Mr. Mori.
In the background of the LDP power struggle — and opposition moves to take advantage of it — is growing anxiety over the future and mounting mistrust of politics. All political parties, not just the LDP, have yet to show a credible road map for 21st-century Japan. If the strife ends in a factional numbers game, the people will become even more cynical toward politics. Mr. Kato, in particular, needs to explain in more specific terms why he wants Mr. Mori to step down.
There is no doubt that the former LDP secretary general is deeply worried about the current state of Japanese politics. In an interview, he said that “There is a growing feeling, a sense of paralysis, or a sense of powerlessness, that we politicians are not making serious efforts to eliminate public anxiety. It is a matter of grave concern to all of us that Cabinet approval ratings have dropped to such a low level.”
According to a Kyodo News opinion poll taken in late October, an overwhelming 67.2 percent of respondents said they did not support the Mori Cabinet. Only 18.3 percent expressed approval. Other polls provide a similar picture of disapproval. If these results are any guide, the demand for Mr. Mori’s resignation reflects the will of the majority of the Japanese people.
If that is the case, Mr. Kato needs to spell out his plans to take the reins of government and his basic policies. The only thing that is clear right now is that he will back the opposition motion against Mr. Mori. It is unclear what he will do next, although he has denied speculation that he might quit the LDP — a move that would split the party and redraw the political map.
The immediate question is how many LDP legislators will follow Mr. Kato. Some members of his faction are said to have reservations about throwing in their lot with their leader. The same goes for the allied Yamasaki faction, although its leader, Mr. Taku Yamasaki, former chairman of the Policy Research Council, has made it clear that he will support the anti-Mori motion. The mainstream factions are reportedly trying to win over to their side the undecided members of the Kato and Yamasaki factions. Indeed, the situation is so fluid that there is no assurance the motion will pass.
The mainstream factions are not monolithic, either. Their immediate priority, of course, is to vote down the motion and maintain the present administration. But even these factions also have dissident members who want Mr. Mori to go. The possibility remains, therefore, that a “third person” — someone other than Mori and Kato — might be selected as LDP president even if the motion is rejected.
Unity is also lacking in the opposition camp. Mr. Yukio Hatoyama, head of the Democratic Party of Japan, has left open the possibility that the DPJ might team up with Mr. Kato if he and his followers bolt the LDP. But the Japanese Communist Party, the third-largest opposition group, says it will not participate in a coalition government that embraces the Kato group. The opposition parties must be united if they are to seize power from the LDP-led coalition.
There are so many imponderables that it is difficult to predict how Mr. Kato’s “down with Mori” campaign will work out. One thing can be said for certain, however: If it ends with just more bickering among factions, the LDP — and Japanese politics as a whole — will not change. And Mr. Kato’s dream of remaking the “old LDP” and bringing it close to the people, of shaping new policies for the 21st century, will not come true.
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