Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori is expected to step down sometime this month, a year after he took office. Widely criticized for his alleged incompetence and lack of qualification for national leadership, Mori is sometimes called Japan’s worst postwar prime minister. Even though Mori expressed his apparent intention to resign almost a month ago, no politician has emerged as a strong contender for his post. The governing Liberal Democratic Party suffers from a leadership crisis.

The lame-duck prime minister last month held talks with U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin. At the Washington summit, Bush told Mori Japan bore some responsibility for the global economic crisis, urging him to push economic structure reform. This was humiliating for Japan.

The LDP is having difficulty finding Mori’s replacement because it has fallen behind times and is unable to adapt to changes in public consciousness. It is still swayed by intraparty factions and special-interest groups. The party has few real leaders.

In the largest LDP faction, Keiseikai, former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and former LDP Secretary General Hiromu Nonaka are considered potential contenders for the prime minister’s post. The chief of the Mori faction, former Health and Welfare Minister Junichiro Koizumi, is another potential candidate.

Initially, a one-on-one battle was expected between Nonaka and Koizumi for the LDP presidency, which carries the post of prime minister.

Nonaka, 75, is regarded as an incarnation of the old-fashioned LDP politics. He claims his candidacy is “200 percent impossible.” Koizumi, on the other hand, has a reputation as a reformer and advocates the privatization of postal savings, postal insurance and mail services. He has many conservative enemies in the LDP who could block his candidacy.

Other possible contenders include Economics Minister Taro Aso, Justice Minister Masahiko Komura, Trade Minister Takeo Hiranuma, former Trade Minister Mitsuo Horiuchi and former LDP policy chief Taku Yamasaki. Yamasaki once formed the dissident YKK group in the LDP with Koizumi and former LDP Secretary General Koichi Koto, who staged an abortive rebellion last autumn in an attempt to unseat Mori.

If both Nonaka and Koizumi decide not to run, there is a strong possibility that Hashimoto and Aso will emerge as strong candidates. Hashimoto, 63, was forced to resign as prime minister three years ago to take the blame for the LDP’s disastrous setback in an Upper House election. This could be a problem for Hashimoto’s possible candidacy in the superstitious political world. Aso, 60, is a grandson of the late Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida. He accompanied Mori on the latter’s trip to Washington last month. Critics say both Hashimoto and Aso lack strong public appeal and may be unfit as prime minister.

The confusion in the LDP over Mori’s replacement shows the dysfunction of the LDP and Japanese politics.

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