Dissolving Lower House Prime Minister’s Greatest Weapon

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori

Leaders and intellectuals share their thoughts on political issues Japan will tackle this year in the Outlook 2021 series. This is the second installment of an interview with Yoshiro Mori, former prime minister and president of the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The following is excerpted from the interview.

■ People feel close to Suga

Regarding (former prime minister Shinzo) Abe, if you ask me, I would say it was regrettable [that he resigned as prime minister last September], but it was about his health. I guess Abe himself must be the most disappointed.

Even though he is the politician who was involved in the 2020 Games from the get-go — ever since Japan launched its bid to host the event — we won’t be able to cross the finish line together when the time finally comes to host the Games. This was the hardest part of all, so I really wanted to do something about it. That’s why I asked him to stay on as an honorary supreme advisor of the Advisory Meeting of the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games even after he left his post as supreme advisor, which is held by the prime minister.

I dare to say this, but the issue of the sakura viewing party makes me feel gloomy. Having said that, even if the prime minister at his busiest time showed up for people who came from their home constituencies the day before the party, there is no way he would take care of their participation fees and other payments. That is something the secretary would do.

[Prime Minister Yoshihide] Suga is a truly modest person. I can’t think of anyone like him who is so diligent. He is like a good-hearted vice mayor of a village or town government, and I think that makes everyone feel an affinity with him.

He is also firmly faithful to his beliefs. I was so glad when Suga said he wanted to succeed the Abe administration. He said he wanted to build on the work that Abe had done over almost eight years while battling his illness, so I felt I had to support Suga even more than I did Abe.

People in Japan have a lot of complaints about [how the government has handled] the novel coronavirus pandemic, and as a result Suga’s approval rating has dropped. But he is working really hard to do his job, isn’t he? It doesn’t really matter if he reads in a monotone [when responding to Diet questions]. He doesn’t hide how he does things, and that’s so typical of him, I think.

I’m retired from politics, so I try not to say anything about it, but the right to dissolve the House of Representatives is the prime minister’s greatest power and greatest weapon. Therefore, I wouldn’t be surprised if a dissolution takes place any time this year. Having said that, I’m hoping that the timing won’t conflict with the Olympics and Paralympics.

■ Leadership education

Nowadays, both politicians and government officials have become diminished in stature. The opposition parties are doing all sorts of things, like merging and moving apart, but the people who get the most attention in the Diet question sessions have hardly changed in the past 10 years.

If there is no change at all, there is no point in asking the public to pay attention to the opposition parties. Voters can’t take hope from them. Under this situation, the Liberal Democratic Party has also become less dynamic. It was remarked upon that Abe’s Cabinet was in power for a long time, but I would have liked to see some other LDP politicians grow a little more during that time.

It seems like everyone is standing up for the next move, without having had a proper shikiri preparation as in sumo bouts [in which wrestlers face each other in the squatting position]. Wrestlers repeatedly take the shikiri position prior to the actual moment of the tachiai jump-off, but they stand up only when they feel both physically and mentally ready [to fight].

I could tell that Fumio Kishida [who was formerly LDP policy research council chairperson and lost the LDP presidential election] wasn’t feeling that way yet. I wonder how much he understood about what he had to do to become LDP president.

At the time of the presidential election, he came to me and said, “The election [campaign] will finally start tomorrow,” and I said, “You are two weeks late.” But then I told him to visit [Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro] Aso immediately to ask him for his support and tell him, “If you make me LDP president, I’ll leave everything up to you.” I said to Kishida that by doing so the decision would be made by that night, but he only responded by saying, “Isn’t it too early?” Having been a politician with such high skills for a long time, a fire should have ignited in him, but that didn’t happen.

I also feel sorry for [former LDP Secretary General] Shigeru Ishiba. I wonder why people don’t follow him after all he has done. I get the feeling that he doesn’t really understand what it is about him that everyone is concerned about. That’s why all the people who were close to him are also leaving. I think this also means that he doesn’t do enough shikiri.

Regarding [Taro] Kono [who is both minister in charge of administrative reform and minister of state for regulatory reform] and [Environment Minister Shinjiro] Koizumi, mass media evaluated them more highly than the reality, which shows they haven’t reached the point where they can actually wrestle in their own style.

In the faction led by [Hiroyuki] Hosoda, there is a variety of candidates, such as [Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Koichi] Hagiuda, [Yasutoshi] Nishimura [who is minister in charge of economic revitalization] and [LDP Policy Research Council Chairperson Hakubun] Shimomura. I think it will be great if they can settle down a little bit more to learn things like governance and leadership theories and educate themselves on what it means to be prime minister.

Having said that, I have to admit that I went through a painful experience myself. [Then Prime Minister Keizo] Obuchi had a sudden stroke, and I had no choice but to become the next prime minister.

I believe there were some mistakes in that I couldn’t do proper shikiri preparations and I didn’t do shiko stamping either. However, I believe I made some achievements that are still felt today in diplomacy that involves India, Africa and Russia among other places, and also in domestic affairs with the basic law on the formation of an advanced information and telecommunications network society. I hope young politicians learn that it is not easy to become the nation’s leader.

■ Intl cooperation at Games

If the pandemic is contained in Europe and the United States, I would like to see as many people as possible come to Japan for the Olympics and Paralympics. I hope the leaders of various countries come as well. [U.S. President-elect Joe] Biden may come, but we could also invite [incumbent President Donald] Trump, and Abe can host him. [President Vladimir] Putin of Russia also wanted to come. If the Chinese leader also comes, [LDP Secretary General Toshihiro] Nikai will be helpful.

Although there are various conflicts and sources of friction among countries, it would be a good idea for everyone to openly and freely talk about how the whole world can cooperate and the experience of how we have gone through this extremely difficult virus crisis with great struggle and effort. Let’s make 2021 a year full of dreams.

— This interview was conducted by Yomiuri Shimbun Senior Writer Koichi Mochizuki.

* Japanese honorifics were used in this interview but were omitted for editorial reasons.