Koichi Kato, a leading dissident in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, failed miserably in his latest attempt to unseat Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori.
Kato launched an open revolt against Mori because he feared that the LDP would suffer a devastating loss in the 2001 Upper House election if the prime minister, troubled by dismally low Cabinet approval ratings of less than 20 percent, stayed in his job until then. If that happened, Kato thought, the government would be forced to dissolve the Lower House for a snap election, in which the coalition of the LDP and New Komeito would lose its majority in the chamber, and the opposition forces would take power. Kato’s idea was that if he assumed power now, he would take responsibility for a possible LDP loss in the Upper House election, making it possible for LDP rule to continue.
When he was a leading Diet member of the LDP, Ichiro Ozawa once backed an opposition-sponsored no-confidence motion against the LDP Cabinet, bolted the party and formed a new opposition party, Shinseito. He now heads the conservative opposition Liberal Party.
Unlike Ozawa, Kato refused to leave the LDP. His strategy was to back an opposition-sponsored no-confidence motion against the Cabinet in order to unseat the leader of his own party and take power himself. A conscientious, party-based lawmaker should never engage in such a maneuver.
Even if the Diet had approved the no-confidence motion, the LDP would never have appointed such a betrayer to be its president and prime minister. Opposition parties would never have supported an LDP politician as prime minister. Kato did not recognize that logic and failed to obtain support in the LDP, causing a breakup of his own faction.
But the defeat of the no-confidence motion is not a vote of confidence for the Mori Cabinet. Most LDP members agreed that they would prefer to have Mori replaced soon, but they were loath to have Kato as his replacement.
Kato is politically dead in the LDP after making a serious mistake as a party-based politician. Even if he bolted the LDP, no opposition party would accept him.
Questions remain as to why Kato, while arguing that the Mori administration was doing Japan a great disservice, did not leave the LDP. If Kato’s logic had been correct, all members of his faction would have been united in a bid to unseat Mori.
Kato once stubbornly objected to a proposed electoral reform, arguing that the multiseat constituency system should be preserved. Kato believes that good politicians should try to help solve problems of their constituents, and he is not alone in believing this. LDP policy chief Shizuka Kamei says it is a politician’s duty to give favors to interest groups. Michio Ochi, former chairman of the Financial Construction Commission, was forced to resign for suggesting that there should be lenient treatment for some financial institutions.
Many LDP politicians believe that politics is synonymous with granting favors to interest groups. If this is true, politicians will have to remain with the ruling camp. That explains why they stay with the ruling force under all circumstances, even if it includes former enemies like former Japan Socialist Party leader Tomiichi Murayama. Murayama was once prime minister in an LDP-based coalition government.
A multiseat electoral system is most suitable for politicians who thrive on interest groups. Once a ruling party loses a majority in parliament, it forms a coalition with smaller parties to stay in power.
Since the end of World War II, Japan and Italy have had similar coalition-based politics. In Japan, the LDP government of Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone absorbed the New Liberal Club when it lost its majority in the Lower House. In the 1990s, the non-LDP governments of Prime Ministers Morihiro Hosokawa and Tsutomu Hata took over after the LDP lost its majority in the Lower House in a general election. The LDP then returned to power by forming a coalition with the JSP. In Italy, the Christian Democratic Party formed alliances with the Socialist Party, the Social Democratic Party and the Republican Party to remain in power.
Politicians whose only purpose is to stay in power are busy obtaining favors for interest groups and lose sight of the big picture.
Kato, in trying to unseat Mori, never disclosed his specific policies for changing Japan. There have been allegations that Kato once received questionable payments from Kyowa Co., a maker of steel frames, and in connection with rice exports to North Korea. Kato also controls construction industries in Yamagata Prefecture. For Kato, politics means influence peddling and that is why he vehemently opposed the proposed single-seat constituency system, which makes a change of government more likely than does a multiseat system.
Kato, a former diplomat, says that Japan must be part of a tripolar system of world diplomacy, along with the United States and China. The question is: Can Japan join the tripolar system without having a nuclear arsenal?
Japan’s diplomacy is based on its relations with the U.S. Why does Kato want to change this structure? His argument appears to reflect the tendency of Japanese diplomats to fawn over China.
Meanwhile, the Diet has enacted a new law that bans influence peddling by lawmakers, but leaves loopholes. It provides no penalties for bribes given to politicians’ private secretaries, instead of to politicians or their state-paid secretaries. Furthermore, it does not hold politicians jointly responsible for acts committed by their secretaries.
However, the fact that the ruling coalition was forced to submit the legislation to the Diet shows that the LDP is aware of sharp public criticism of influence peddling by lawmakers. Japan’s public works-spending almost equals the total amount of such spending by all other industrial nations, and is based entirely on fiscal investments or government debts. Under this system, the LDP thrives but the nation goes bankrupt.
In recent gubernatorial elections in Nagano and Tochigi prefectures, independent candidates were victorious. This show that voters have become aware of the questionable strategies of existing political parties.
Italy’s Christian Democratic Party and Socialist Party disappeared from the political scene after the nation adopted an electoral system based on single-seat districts and proportional representation — a system similar to Japan’s — and conducted two elections on the basis of the system.
This political drama in Japan seems to hint at the collapse of the ruling party.
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