Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori will face a moment of truth in the Upper House election scheduled for July. Results of the election could cause serious political turmoil.

Former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, appearing in a New Year’s television program, predicted that even if the ruling coalition led by the Liberal Democratic Party were to lose its majority in the Upper House, the Mori administration would stay in power as long as the alliance controls the Lower House.

Under Article 67 of the Constitution, the prime minister is designated from among lawmakers by a Diet resolution. If the two chambers disagree on the designation, the Lower House decision takes precedence. Thus as long as the ruling forces control the Lower House, the Cabinet in power will continue to rule.

However, should the governing alliance lose its majority in the Upper House, the opposition forces will control the chamber and will block most of the important bills sponsored by the ruling forces. The Diet will be paralyzed. The Upper House election will determine not only Mori’s political fortunes but also the nation’s destiny. Depending on the election results, moderate to serious political confusion will be inevitable.

These two scenarios are conceivable if the ruling coalition loses the election:

* The ruling alliance of the LDP, New Komeito and the New Conservative Party will seek the participation of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan to secure a majority. The LDP will gloss over policy differences with the DPJ to establish a grand coalition. The DPJ could split when former LDP members return to their old fold.

* The DPJ will refuse to join the governing coalition, forcing a Diet dissolution and a snap election.

DPJ chief Yukio Hatoyama is unlikely to accept an LDP-proposed grand coalition, and there is only a slim chance for the first scenario. The second scenario is more probable.

A Lower House election will not solve problems stemming from the ruling coalition’s lack of a majority in the Upper House, but could serve as a catalyst for ending the political confusion.

Before dissolving the Lower House, the Mori Cabinet must resign en masse and the LDP must pick a new president to replace him. The date of the LDP presidential election, now scheduled for next September, is likely to be advanced. Potential candidates in the election will probably include former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, former Health and Welfare Minister Junichiro Koizumi and LDP policy chief Shizuka Kamei.

One politician to watch is former LDP Secretary General Koichi Kato, who unsuccessfully challenged Mori for power in November by threatening to back an opposition-sponsored no-confidence motion against the Mori Cabinet.

In the drama, Kato tried to unseat Mori while remaining in the LDP. People expected Kato to leave the party and engineer a major political realignment with opposition forces but he did not. He and his supporters merely boycotted the Diet session for the voting on the no-confidence motion, instead of supporting it. There was a wide difference between Kato’s strategies and public expectations.

The question is whether Kato will remain in the LDP and challenge Mori for power by running in the presidential election or leave the party to tie up with the DPJ-led opposition forces.

Hatoyama recently proposed to work out plans for a coalition government after the Upper House election with the Liberal Party, the Social Democratic Party and possibly LDP groups headed by Kato and fellow dissident leader Taku Yamasaki.

If the DPJ had grabbed power by tying up with Kato’s forces in November, it would have been a windfall. This year the DPJ intends to take the initiative in the political power play.

After the LDP elects a new president to replace Mori, an extraordinary Diet session will be convened to designate a new prime minister. Before the Lower House is dissolved, a caretaker Cabinet will be installed.

There will be a tough election battle between the LDP and the DPJ. Currently the opposition camp, excluding independents, has 190 seats. If it adds 51 seats to its present strength, the opposition camp will control the Lower House and a new Hatoyama administration will be born. The election battle is expected to be fierce and the results are likely to be close.

It is unclear if the LDP-led coalition rule will continue or the DPJ-led coalition will grab power. The decision will come around next September.

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