Stayin' Alive

Though his approval rating is now down to single digits, hapless Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori survived his second no-confidence vote in just four months on March 14. The outcome came as a surprise, since just a week earlier, Mori had proposed moving forward the Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) election from its scheduled September date—a statement generally regarded as a sign that he would soon be leaving office.

Tokyo’s centrist Mainichi Shimbun (March 15) speculated that Mori and the LDP party elders have been evasive on the issue of resignation, because the party has no promising successor in the wings. The paper also conjectured that Mori himself needed to save face. Mori’s 11-month tenure in office has been littered with repeated verbal and behavioral gaffes, which have quickly eroded public confidence. His most recent debacle: his shamelessly nonchalant handling of the Ehime Maru disaster. After first learning of the Feb. 9 collision between the Japanese fishing ship and the USS Greeneville, he reportedly continued his golf game. Early on in his presidency, he had suggested to the British prime minister that Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea might be conveniently “found” in a third country.

Tokyo’s centrist Yomiuri Shimbun (March 13) commented on Mori’s string of egregious faux pas: “A prime minister has the responsibility to take care how his speech and conduct appear to the public. Mori has never been aware of the burden of responsibility that accompanies his position.”

Japan has spent the last year in an economic slump, which has only been exacerbated by the political ineptitudes of leaders like Mori. A March 17 editorial in Tokyo’s conservative Japan Times expressed grave concern over the growing “deflationary spiral—which Japan has not experienced since the end of World War II.” While acknowledging that the three ruling parties were equally to blame, the editorial went on to single out and censure Mori for being “so busy finding excuses for his mistakes that he had little time for drastic policy initiatives.”

The liberal Asahi Shimbun (March 16) opined that lame-duck Mori was botching up not only domestic affairs, but also Japan’s place in the international arena. Anticipating Mori’s summits with U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the paper worried that meetings would be “exploratory at best,” since “Mori has become something of a comic entertainer in the eyes of the world.”