Late last year Japan and the United States were buffeted by political turbulence. After briefly stirring fears of prolonged trouble, the chaos has died down.
U.S. political confusion stemmed from uncertainties over the results of the presidential election. Some people even feared that the U.S. would have no elected president in the immediate future. The trouble was caused by the esoteric Electoral College system, which dates back to the birth of the U.S., and by sloppy vote-counting methods. After court disputes were resolved, the Republican administration of President George W. Bush took over.
Under the Bush administration, no major change is expected in U.S. policy toward East Asia, despite initial fears that Washington might revert to its former policy of seeking regional stability through military power.
In Japan, political confusion arose last November when Koichi Kato, a leading dissident in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, challenged unpopular Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori by threatening to back an opposition-sponsored no-confidence Diet motion against the Mori Cabinet. The Cabinet’s public-disapproval ratings then stood at about 70 percent. The no-confidence motion was voted down when Mori’s forces successfully crushed the rebellion. Some of the dissidents deserted Kato, leading to a split in the Kato group. Now only a dozen loyalists still support Kato.
The Mori government now faces two major scandals — one involving LDP lawmakers and the other involving a senior Foreign Ministry official.
In the first scandal, some LDP lawmakers allegedly received payoffs from KSD, a mutual-aid organization. Masakuni Murakami resigned as chairman of the LDP members’ assembly in the Upper House after admitting his links with KSD, while Upper House lawmaker Takao Koyama was arrested on suspicion of taking KSD payoffs. Fukushiro Nukaga later resigned as state minister for economic and fiscal policy in connection with the scandal.
The second scandal involves the alleged misappropriation of the Cabinet secretariat funds by a Foreign Ministry official.
The Mori administration stands on even shakier ground than it did when the Kato rebellion failed, as Mori’s habit of making inept remarks continues to make more trouble for himself and the LDP.
The Mori Cabinet’s public-approval rating in late January plunged to a dismal 19 percent. This shows that it would face a disastrous defeat if a parliamentary election was immediately held. An Upper House election will take place in July, and depending on its results the Lower House could be dissolved for a snap election later this year. In retrospect, Kato should have timed his rebellion better.
Lawmakers supporting former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto have been arguing since last year that the LDP should hold a party convention in March, following Diet approval of the fiscal 2001 budget, to remove Mori as party president. They argue that since Mori would lead the LDP to defeat in the Upper House election, Hashimoto should replace him as LDP president and head the LDP’s election campaign.
For a time Foreign Minister Yohei Kono was considered a contender for the prime minister’s post but he now has no chance since he is being held responsible for the scandal over the misuse of state funds by that senior Foreign Ministry official.
Many Japanese, including some LDP members, are nervous about the possibility Hashimoto could once again serve as prime minister since he is linked to the defunct LDP factions led by the late Deputy Prime Minister Shin Kanemaru and the late Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita, who pushed money-based power politics.
There is little doubt that Mori’s political situation is now in grave danger. The problem is that Mori has survived in the Diet even though he is widely disapproved of by the public. Japan should rid itself of such backward politics, which completely ignores the people’s will.
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