Mori plans Cabinet; future unclear


TOKYO, AP

Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori met with senior members of his party Saturday to discuss a planned Cabinet reshuffle aimed at refreshing the image of his unpopular administration.

Political analysts, meanwhile, speculated that the Liberal Democratic Party bond with its main ally in a three party ruling coalition was weakened by Friday’s resignation of the LDP’s second-in-command. The alliance is crucial to maintaining the LDP’s control over the government.

The departure of Hiromu Nonaka, who served as chief liaison between the LDP and Komeito Party, could erode the coalition and probably speed efforts to replace Mori with a more popular leader, said Jiro Yamaguchi, a professor of politics at Hokkaido University.

Though the Komeito was likely to remain in the coalition, it would probably withhold support for a new administration to be formed by Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori early next week, Yamaguchi said.

“Because of the Nonaka resignation, the next Mori Cabinet will be very weak,” he said. “The next Cabinet will be a temporary one.”

Mori spokesman Kazuhiko Koshikawa dismissed the speculation of weakened ties with the Komeito, a party backed by a powerful Buddhist lay organization that many see as an unlikely partner for the LDP.

Koshikawa added that Mori was holding informal meetings throughout the weekend with top members of the LDP to decide on whom to choose for the new Cabinet. He said he did not know further details.

A series of verbal blunders by Mori and the resignation of his top spokesman in late October amid allegations of right-wing ties have crushed popular support for the nearly eight-month-old administration.

Though it has dominated Japanese politics almost continuously for the last 45 years, the LDP lost its majority in the lower house of Parliament in national elections held this June.

Now occupying only 233 of the chamber’s 480 seats, the LDP needs the support of 38 lawmakers belonging to the smaller Komeito and Conservative parties to keep control of the government.

Nonaka, 75, one of the party’s most powerful veterans, was generally credited as saving Mori, Japan’s least popular prime minister in years, by dissuading Parliament members from voting against him in a no-confident motion last week.

Mori is believed to be under pressure from the Komeito and even factions in the LDP to resign soon so a new administration can rebuild support for the LDP ahead of parliamentary elections due next summer.

Mori has so far vowed to continue in his post, and the prime minister was expected to announce his new Cabinet lineup as early as Tuesday.

Filling the seats could be a problem. Before Nonaka’s resignation Friday, chief economic planner Taichi Sakaiya said he would not accept a role in the new Cabinet.

Finance Minister Kiichi Miyazawa, the Cabinet’s most powerful minister, expressed hesitation at first, although he reportedly later agreed to stay on.