The United States and Japan are plagued by political chaos. The fierce U.S. presidential race ended in victory for George W. Bush after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the recounting of disputed ballots in Florida. In Japan, a disturbingly wide gap exists between the fragile support Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori gets from the public and the strong endorsement he receives in the Diet.

According to a public-pinion poll released this week, the approval rate for the Mori Cabinet was 19 percent, with the disapproval rate standing at 65 percent. Last month, the Diet overwhelmingly voted down an opposition-sponsored no-confidence motion against the Mori Cabinet. This discrepancy threatens to undermine Japan’s parliamentary democracy.

The confusion over the U.S. presidential election stems from the power that individual states have, as well as esoteric U.S. election and legal systems. Use of peculiar ballots apparently compounded the chaos.

In Japan, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has few charismatic politicians. For some time, Koichi Kato, a leading LDP dissident, was considered a major contender for the prime minister’s post. But Kato, known as a “political commentator” for his tendency to comment on politics like an observer, failed to clarify his position. This caused Kato’s influence to wane as the LDP geared up for a Cabinet reshuffle required in connection with the reorganization of the central bureaucracy next year.

There were growing calls in the LDP for Mori’s ouster ahead of the 2001 Upper House election. But although Kato aspired to power, he remained mostly silent on political issues. That was incomprehensible.

Then something unexpected happened. At a meeting with political commentators, including some pro-Mori people, Kato was asked if he was willing to join Mori’s new Cabinet. He said he was not, adding that he would reshuffle the Cabinet (as prime minister). This was a shocking challenge to the LDP’s mainstream groups. Earlier, former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone had met with Mori, two media executives and a prewar Japanese military leader, presumably to discuss the power arrangement.

I do not know what Kato was thinking when he challenged Mori for power. In the end, Kato and his fellow rebels lost miserably. Kato’s failure stemmed from distorted parliamentary politics in which the public will is hardly reflected.

Kato’s office is known for its high-tech equipment. The former LDP secretary general is popular with the public and has reportedly received a flood of e-mail regarding his rebellion. Even though he failed, he continues to get encouraging messages from his supporters.

Most voters and LDP dissidents agree that Mori should step down. Furthermore, most LDP lawmakers say the party will have little chance of winning the Upper House election if Mori stays at the helm until then. However, powerful LDP factions led by former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and Mori are reluctant to give up party leadership and therefore are determined to keep the Mori administration in power as long as possible. Dissident LDP leaders find this annoying.

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