No. 27 — July 14, 2000

 

Weekly Review

MORI REELECTED PRIME MINISTER; APPOINTS STOPGAP CABINET
--- by Barbara Wanner

Liberal Democratic Party President Yoshiro Mori, as expected, was easily reelected as Japan's prime minister July 4, receiving 284 of the 479 votes cast in the Diet's 480-member lower house and 133 of the 242 votes recorded in the 252-seat upper house. His closest rival, Democratic Party of Japan leader Yukio Hatoyama, garnered 190 combined ballots. Mr. Mori — better known for his back-room political deals than for his policy expertise or visionary leadership — then predictably appointed a cabinet virtually identical in terms of party representation to his early April administration. With 338 members in the Diet, the LDP received the lion's share of the 18 cabinet posts. Its two governing partners, the New Komeito and the New Conservative Party, received one position each (see Table).

Second Mori Cabinet, July 4, 2000

Position

Name

Party[1]

Prime Minister

Yoshiro Mori

LDP

Justice Minister

Okiharu Yasuoka

LDP

Foreign Minister

Yohei Kono*

LDP

Finance Minister

Kiichi Miyazawa*

LDP

Education Minister and
Director General,
Science and Technology Agency

Tadamori Oshima

LDP

Health and Welfare Minister

Yuji Tsushima

LDP

Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister

Yoichi Tani

LDP

International Trade and Industry Minister

Takeo Hiranuma

LDP

Transport Minister and
Director General,
Hokkaido Development Agency

Hajime Morita

LDP

Posts and Telecommunications Minister

Kozo Hirabayashi

LDP

Labor Minister

Yoshio Yoshikawa

LDP

Construction Minister and
Director General, National Land Agency

Chikage Ogi

NCP

Home Affairs Minister

Mamoru Nishida

LDP

Financial Reconstruction Minister

Kimitaka Kuze

LDP

State Ministers



Chief Cabinet Secretary and
Director General, Okinawa Development Agency

Hidenao Nakagawa

LDP

Director General, Management and Coordination Agency

Kunihiro Tsuzuki*

NK

Director General, Defense Agency

Kazuo Torashima

LDP

Director General, Economic Planning Agency

Taichi Sakaiya*

No Party[2]

Director General, Environment Agency

Yoriko Kawaguchi

No Party[2]

*Reappointed
[1]LDP = Liberal Democratic Party; NCP = New Conservative Party; NK = New Komeito
[2]Mr. Sakaiya and Ms. Kawaguchi are not elected officials.

Source: Kyodo Wire Service, July 4, 2000.

Although Mr. Mori told reporters at the July 5 press conference inaugurating his new administration that he was determined to create a "reborn Japan" by boosting the economy and promoting information technology, not a few pundits scoffed at this bold declaration. Such critics lambasted the premier for the closed-door nature of his cabinet selection process, which appeared to be guided purely by intraparty politics. Mr. Mori has formed nothing more than a seat-warming cabinet of "aging time-servers without clear policy goals," they railed.

Some political insiders suggested that the architects of the new government — Mr. Mori, LDP Secretary General Hiromu Nonaka and former Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio Aoki — may have wanted nothing more than a transitional team in view of the sweeping bureaucratic reorganization that is scheduled to be implemented in January 2001. Under this plan, the number of ministries and agencies will be slashed to 13 from 22 (see JEI Report No. 27B, July 16, 1999). However, given Mr. Mori's dismal approval ratings and the public's continuing concerns about the economy's prospects, other commentators have proposed that a near-term cabinet reshuffle could be precipitated by the premier's ouster. The LDP chief was reelected as prime minister for the sole purpose of presiding over the July 21-23 summit on Okinawa of the leaders of the Group of Seven major industrial nations plus Russia, they say. After this gathering, the powers-that-be in the ruling coalition have no reason to keep Mr. Mori in the job.

Whatever the new government's longevity, its launch did not generate an outpouring of support or unleash a shower of accolades. That low-key reaction might have been appropriate given the beating taken by the three coalition parties in the June 25 lower house elections, some experts say. The trio clinched a 271-seat absolute majority in the House of Representatives — sufficient to enable it not only to reelect Mr. Mori with ease but also to chair all standing committees (see JEI Report No. 25B, June 30, 2000). However, the LDP's loss of the simple majority that it had in the 500-seat lower house in the previous Diet and the gain of 32 seats by the DPJ, the main opposition group, reflected voters' disenchantment with the governing arrangement in general and with Mr. Mori's leadership in particular.

The prime minister's decision to retain experienced officials in key foreign policy and economic cabinet positions no doubt evoked sighs of relief both at home and overseas. With Yohei Kono continuing as Foreign minister, Kiichi Miyazawa as Finance minister and Taichi Sakaiya as director general of the Economic Planning Agency, Mr. Mori is likely to make it through the G-8 summit without any major mishaps. Thanks to Mr. Kono's steady hand on the diplomatic tiller, the prime minister also should be well-prepared for a long-awaited meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the summit. Mr. Putin is expected to drive a much harder bargain than his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, on the territorial dispute that has blocked conclusion of a Japan-Russia peace treaty for more than 50 years (see JEI Report No. 18B, May 5, 2000).

Most of the rest of the cabinet appointments, however, seemed to reflect Mr. Mori's old-guard approach to LDP politics — one that awards seats at the governing table based on the relative strength of each of the party's seven factions, or power centers. The largest of these, which was headed by the late Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, received three posts, while Mr. Mori's group and the faction led jointly by Takami Eto and Shizuka Kamei were given two each. Of the other groups, the organization steered by former LDP Secretary General Koichi Kato was awarded two plum assignments. Taku Yamasaki's faction received one appointment, as did the group led by Mr. Kono and the one that still rallies under the banner of the late Toshio Komoto.

In view of the prime minister's reliance on the age-old factional formula for divvying up cabinet posts, Mr. Mori's decision to assign the Environment Agency portfolio to Yoriko Kawaguchi, executive director of Suntory Ltd. and a former senior official of the Ministry of International Trade and Ministry, seemed a rather blatant attempt to give a fresh look to his old-man administration, the average age of which is 66. His appointment of a second female cabinet member, former actress and now New Conservative Party leader Chikage Ogi, as Construction minister proved more controversial.

Ordinarily, the Ministry of Construction assignment is highly coveted by ambitious LDP up-and-comers given the LDP's propensity for public works-driven fiscal stimulus and the opportunity that gives the minister to award favors to generous party supporters in the construction industry. However, when former Construction Minister Eiichi Nakao was arrested in late June on suspicion of receiving ¥30 million ($272,700 at ¥110=$1.00) in bribes from Tokyo-based Wakachiku Construction Co., Ltd. while in office four years ago, the job immediately lost its appeal.

Mr. Nonaka was said to have initially favored Tadamori Oshima as Construction minister. But when Mr. Oshima declined the offer — as did everyone else approached by the LDP secretary general — Mr. Nonaka turned to Ms. Ogi, ostensibly because female politicians are perceived as being less preoccupied with money and not as tempted by graft as their male colleagues. But the New Conservative Party chief saw through the LDP secretary general's motives. "I may have been used to erase the public's suspicions [about the graft associated with public works projects]," Ms. Ogi told reporters. She also was not shy in making known her disappointment about being passed over for her first choice of a cabinet job, Education minister, the post given to Mr. Oshima.

Mr. Mori's clumsiness in handling Ms. Ogi's appointment has made him even more vulnerable to opposition party attacks that he lacks the moral fiber, the substantive background and the political finesse to occupy Japan's highest elected office. The four main nonruling parties wasted no time introducing legislation July 5 that would prohibit Diet members from using their influence to compel public servants to reward a particular person, company or organization in the form of a government contract. Not surprisingly, Mr. Kamei, chairman of the LDP's Policy Research Council, objected to the bill on the grounds that current laws that bar politicians from taking bribes in return for favors are sufficient to prohibit the sort of behavior alleged of Mr. Nakao.

The opposition parties were not put off by Mr. Kamei's reaction — quite the contrary. They seem even more determined to seize on the Wakachiku Construction scandal, the nation's economic problems, Mr. Mori's loose-cannon tendencies and anything else they can use to create political circumstances so dire that the prime minister will have little choice but to resign and dissolve the Diet for yet another lower house poll. In view of the DPJ's gains in the June 25 elections, the largest nonruling party has high hopes that the political opposition can seize control from the triparty alliance the next time around.

Although he is snug in the driver's seat for the moment, Mr. Mori's position also could be threatened by a rebellion within his party's ranks. More than 40 younger LDP members formed a parliamentary group July 5 aimed at reshaping the ruling party. While these Young Turks joined their colleagues in supporting Mr. Mori's reelection as premier, they nonetheless are unhappy with his orthodox approach to party affairs and his bumbling performance. If the opposition's tactics do not bring the prime minister down, forces within his own party might — but not until after the G-8 summit.

The views expressed in this report are those of the author
and do not necessarily represent those of the Japan Economic Institute

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