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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Japan Swiftly Swears In Prime Minister




TOKYO -- Just hours after the Cabinet resigned to make way for a smooth transfer of power, Japan's governing party Wednesday nominated its secretary-general, Yoshiro Mori, to replace the ailing prime minister, Keizo Obuchi, who was felled over the weekend by a stroke.


Later both houses of parliament voted for Mori as the new prime minister. He and his new Cabinet were then sworn in by Emperor Akihito.


The nomination of Mori, who was second to Obuchi in the party hierarchy, reflected the fulfillment of a carefully choreographed script by the governing Liberal Democratic Party to ensure a smooth and quick succession to Obuchi, who still lies in a coma.


The new prime minister is widely expected to organize new elections quickly, most likely before Japan plays host to a summit meeting of the leading economic powers, the Group of Seven plus Russia, in Okinawa in July.


The announcement of Mori's selection by the Liberal Democrats and his ratification by parliament represents the culmination of an extraordinary transition in Japanese politics, in which news of Obuchi's hospitalization early Sunday was kept from the nation for 22 hours while party leaders consulted among themselves over what to do next.


From the moment the announcement of Obuchi's stroke was made, late Sunday evening, the succession of events has been almost blindingly fast for a country more used to political changes measured at a snail's pace.


The mechanics of the succession, however, from the passing of power to a caretaker prime minister, Mikio Aoki, to the selection of Mori in backroom consultations among the party's factions has left many Japanese complaining that their political system is both antiquated and relatively undemocratic.


Obuchi was Japan's first prime minister to suffer an incapacitating illness before any transition arrangements could be made, revealing a system badly unprepared for such an eventuality.


Mori, in a brief statement Wednesday morning, praised Obuchi's record and promised to follow in his footsteps. "My mission is to make sure that we stay on the path of economic growth," he said.


He is expected to continue Obuchi's policies, including giving priority to economic growth, even if that means increases in government debt. In preparation for the party decision, the Cabinet resigned Tuesday evening, but Mori reappointed the ministers Wednesday.


Mori, 62, won support by demonstrating a strong loyalty to Obuchi. Even more useful to him were his close ties to the party's major coalition partner, the Buddhist-backed New Komeito.


Mori is a lifelong party operative who gradually rose through the ranks. He was elected to parliament in 1969 and at various times was education minister, head of the party policy council, trade and industry minister and construction minister. He has twice been secretary-general of the Liberal Democrats.


But the portfolios that typically define the true party heavyweights, finance minister and foreign minister, have eluded him. Those gaps in his resume and his reputation for timidity on policy issues have led many commentators to say they would expect little innovation under his leadership.


Many commentators said Tuesday, however, that by choosing Mori - a burly, raspy voiced politician not especially known for his personal popularity or campaigning skills - the party was taking a huge risk in national elections that are widely expected before summer.


The choice of Mori speaks volumes, they said, about unusual imperatives in Japanese politics - loyalty to partners and allies in a crunch - rather than to the party's immediate political needs and even, potentially, to its survival.


"It is not that the LDP lacks people who could enjoy popularity," said Masumi Ishikawa, a professor of politics at Niigata University of International and Information Studies. "There is Mr. Kono and Mr. Kato, both of whom would probably be more popular."


Yohei Kono, the foreign minister, and Koichi Kato, a former chief Cabinet secretary, were both believed to aspire to the prime minister's job.