Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori survived a no-confidence motion against his Cabinet early Tuesday when the governing coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and the New Conservative Party voted down the motion in the Lower House. Mori’s rivals — former LDP Secretary General Koichi Kato and former LDP policy chief Taku Yamasaki — reneged at the last minute on their promise to back the opposition-sponsored motion to force Mori’s immediate resignation. By abstaining from the vote, Kato, Yamasaki and their LDP supporters facilitated Mori’s political survival.

What happened to the determination of Kato, who had vociferously demanded Mori’s ouster against the background of mounting public criticism of the prime minister’s administration?

Kato’s betrayal shattered any hopes that the public had entertained for political renewal, and irreparably worsened public distrust of politics. After the Lower House vote, Kato acknowledged to reporters that he and his group “were not well-prepared and lacked a suitable strategy.” Kato added that there were “differences of opinion” in the dissident groups.

From the day Kato announced his intention to force Mori’s resignation, many lawmakers expressed doubts about his abrupt political moves. His remarks after the vote suggest that he recklessly launched his revolt without confidence of succeeding.

Kato failed to unite his own group of more than 40 Lower House members, including Finance Minister Kiichi Miyazawa, who voted against the motion. Kato caused a split of his faction, one of the major LDP groups. This raises serious doubts about Kato’s qualifications at a faction leader.

We also have doubts about Kato’s strategy of abstaining from the vote. Regarding his last-minute change of mind, Kato said he was not sure if he could win the battle. But if he and his supporters had voted for the motion, he might not have won but would have fought a very close battle. That would have inflicted political damage against Mori, secured a beachhead for the next move against the government and helped maintain trust with the opposition forces. In addition, Kato would have increased his public support. His choice of strategy was a fatal mistake.

Mori owes his survival to the dissidents’ self-destructive moves. If he believes that the vote against the no-confidence motion was a vote of confidence for him, he is politically doomed.

Act I of the political drama has ended, and it is uncertain if Act II will be played out anytime soon. None of the demands for reform that Kato and fellow dissidents called for have been addressed. While it appears peace has been restored in politics, sources of turmoil remain, particularly demands for Mori’s resignation. The undercurrent of such demands is strong, and could surface in the near future. Having defeated the no-confidence motion, LDP executives and leadership groups are intent on supporting the Mori government in the months ahead. However, certain LDP factions and partners in the ruling coalition are likely to agitate for Mori’s ouster.

After the current extraordinary Diet session closes Dec. 1, the government will gear up for a Cabinet reshuffle related to the January reorganization of the central bureaucracy and the compilation of a fiscal 2001 government budget before the yearend. LDP factions are already looking for ministerial posts in the Cabinet reshuffle. It remains to be seen if Kato and his associates will get any Cabinet posts.

Predicting the political situation in the coming months, LDP Secretary General Hiromu Nonaka remarked, “After a storm comes a calm.” But it is uncertain if the political calm will continue. Act II of the political drama come at anytime.

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