Japan faces weak coalition government: New poll likely after an electorate terrified of change ends 38 years of LDP dominance

Click to follow
The Independent Online
JAPAN entered a new political era yesterday as the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lost its majority in the Lower House of parliament for the first time since 1955, and new reformist parties made larger than expected inroads into the 511-member chamber.

But the gains of the new parties were offset by a disastrous showing for the Socialists, who lost half of their seats, making it difficult, but not impossible, for opposition parties to muster the numbers to form an anti- LDP government.

The election results plunged Japan into an unaccustomed state of political confusion. The parties now have 30 days to agree on a coalition which will form the government and elect the prime minister. But already the next government is expected to have a short life, and many commentators think another election could be called within 12 months.

The main issue of the election was whether Japan's political system should change from the one-party pro-business dominance of the LDP. The arrival of new parties and the potential for real political change apparently intimidated Japan's conservative voters, and the turnout was a mere 67.3 per cent, the lowest on record. But enough people voted for three new pro-reform parties to put the LDP on notice.

The LDP won 223 seats, and in addition was expected to win the support of at least 15 of the 30 Diet (parliament) members who ran as independents. That would leave them with 238, still short of the required 256 seats that represent a majority in the Lower House.

Opposing the LDP is a group of five opposition parties, led by the new Shinsei (renewal) Party and the Socialist Party: together they won 195 seats, and could get as many as 10 independents to join them.

The swing vote is held by the Japan New Party of Morihiro Hosokawa, who won 35 seats, and a smaller allied party, the Sakigake Party, which won 13 seats. Mr Hosokawa refused to commit himself to either side during the campaign, a tactic aimed at increasing his own bargaining power in the post-election manoeuvring.

Both the LDP and the Shinsei party said they were determined to form the next government. Seiroku Kajiyama, the LDP's secretary general, said that because the LDP was the single largest party it had a responsibility to form the next government to ensure stability in Japan.

The LDP's main campaign message has been to promote itself as the party of stability, which strikes a strong chord with many Japanese, who instinctively shy away from change.

But the leader of the Shinsei party, Tsutomu Hata, said the election results showed that a majority of the Japanese people had finally voted for 'radical reforms'. Mr Hata said the election was called 'because of a no confidence vote in Prime Minister (Kiichi) Miyazawa. The LDP did not get a majority, and therefore it should give up power.'

Even if the LDP forms the core of the next government, Mr Miyazawa is unlikely to keep the prime minister's job. Several LDP leaders hinted yesterday that he should resign to take responsibility for the split in the LDP that has led to the current political disarray. The Socialists' leader, Sadao Yamahana, is also under pressure to step down after his party's miserable performance.

Race of the hoarse, page 12

Land of rising expectations, page 18