Monday, December 31, 2007

Yoshirō Mori Prime Minister: Mission Incomplete

You’ve heard about these people at their children’s games, haven’t you, pleading with the coaches, haranguing the referees, fighting other parents, embarrassing themselves and their kids? And you’ve wondered, haven’t you: what makes them do that?

If news reports are to be believed, ex-Prime Minister Yoshirō Mori has been at it again, pushing a Cabinet remake. Most recently, he had served as the middleman for Tsuneo Watanabe’s efforts to craft a Grand Coalition by engineering a meeting between Yasuo Fukuda, Prime Minister, and Ichirō Ozawa, DPJ leader and political mastermind. A few months before that, he had made sure that LDP faction leaders, as well as his own faction, would be united behind Mr. Fukuda as successor to the failed Shinzō Abe. This in turn was redemption of a rain check of sorts, for he had failed to convince Mr. Abe, who went on to take the Premiership by near-acclaim, to bide his time and let Mr. Fukuda follow Junichirō Koizumi. These and other lesser things Mr. Mori has been able to do through as their big brother in the Seiwakai/Seiwa Seisaku Kenkai, the faction that he once headed and has produced the last four Prime Ministers, beginning with Mr. Mori himself.

Mr. Mori is a very successful man by most accounts. Inheriting his faction from Hiroshi Mitsuzuka (who stepped in as faction leader after the untimely death of Shintarō Abe (Shinzō’s dad), who had received the nod from Fukuda Takeo (Yasuo’s dad), who in turn… but you get the idea) in 1998, he became Prime Minister in 2000. Although his highly unpopular reign lasted little more than a year, he was followed by his faction surrogate Mr. Koizumi, who rode a successful grassroots campaign to an upset victory in 2001. He then retook control of the faction and successfully grew it, until it is now the largest in the LDP.

So here we have an ex-Prime Minister whose brief reign was cut short, not by death or illness or election disaster, but by sheer unpopularity, a miasma of a thousand gaffes and mishaps that seemed to settle on him whenever the media turned their eyes and ears on the bumbling public figure; a still healthy 70 year old, whose entire life had demonstrated a consumptive love of the political game that appeared to be matched only by his disinterest in, or inaptitude for, statecraft. It is no wonder, then, given the lack of finality to his own turn at the pinnacle and no longer allowed to play for himself, that he continues to seek to mold the game to his liking.

There is no way for an outsider to determine the extent of influence that Mr. Mori retains within his faction, but Mr. Koizumi has been enjoying his semiretirement, Mr. Abe is in no position to claim the faction for his own any time soon (it never was his), and the brief leadership of Nobutaka Machimura, seen by many as a stop-gap compromise choice, has been interrupted by his current tenure as Chief Cabinet Secretary. Thus, his power base secure for the foreseeable future, expect more of the same from Mr. Mori. So stay tuned.

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