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Japan’s Ruling Party Regroups

November 21, 2000

TOKYO (AP) _ Japan’s ruling party tried to regroup Tuesday after weathering its worst crisis in years when a senior party leader backed down from a threat to support a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori.

The motion failed, 237 to 190, in an early morning vote after a marathon Parliament session in which opposition lawmakers called Mori’s government a failure.

Mori appeared doomed until Koichi Kato, a leading figure in his Liberal Democratic Party, at the last minute abandoned a rebellion aimed at ousting the unpopular prime minister.

The vote left Mori weaker than ever. His public support ratings have fallen below 20 percent, and polls before the no-confidence vote suggested that most Japanese supported Kato’s challenge.

``I am disappointed,″ said Wataru Hiura, 30, a Tokyo fish dealer. ``It’s about time for Mori to go. He isn’t good for the Japanese people, though no matter who becomes prime minister, it will be the same.″

Had the measure passed, Mori would have been the first Japanese leader to lose a no-confidence vote since Prime Minister Miyazawa in 1993.

Mori vowed to move on and tackle the sluggish economy.

``I have to take firm control of governing the country,″ he told reporters as his supporters rallied Tuesday to mend the rifts in party leadership.

In a later victory for Mori, the lower house of Parliament passed a budget bill that gives the government funds to finance a $9 billion economic stimulus package.

Kato’s rebellion had raised the prospect that parliamentary chaos would stymie the budget and other legislation.

Kato was unrepentant, but Finance Minister Kiichi Miyazawa, one of his most powerful allies, played down the conflict and said Parliament can now focus on an economic recovery.

Amid fears of further political uncertainty, Japan’s financial markets slumped Tuesday. The benchmark Nikkei stock index ended Tuesday at a 20-month low of 14,408.46 points. The yen currency has weakened from about 105 to the dollar when Mori took office to nearly 110 to the dollar Tuesday.

``The feeling that nothing will change has generated a loss of hope,″ said Akinori Takeda, an analyst at Tokyo Securities Co.

Mori, who became prime minister in April after the collapse and death of Keizo Obuchi, repeatedly embarrassed the ruling party with diplomatic gaffes. He also was criticized for calling Japan a ``divine nation,″ which reminded many of militaristic emperor-worship during World War II.

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