One fifth of the LDP's 278 Lower House members revolted against the government in an extreme humiliation for Mr Miyazawa, whose popularity rating has fallen as low as 9 per cent. An irreparable split has opened in the party, jeopardising its 38-year grip on power. Many of the rebels, voting against an older generation of LDP leaders whom they regard as unsuited to lead modern Japan, will now formally leave the LDP, plunging the country into political uncertainty before the election, likely to take place on 25 July.
The dissolution of the Diet, or parliament, also throws a shadow over the Group of Seven summit of leading industrial nations in Tokyo early next month. Japan will come under strong pressure, particularly from the US, to reduce its ballooning trade surplus, and its lame-duck government will further frustrate the country's trading partners. Reflecting foreign concern, the yen closed sharply lower against the dollar in London last night.
Fifty-five LDP members either voted for the opposition's no-confidence motion or abstained. As members filed up to the rostrum to vote, a cheer went up each time a vote against the government was registered. The loudest cheers were for LDP rebels. 'It was extraordinary. It was regrettable. The LDP members who voted (for the no confidence motion) betrayed our party's trust,' said Seiroku Kajiyama, the LDP's secretary-general.
The revolt was led by Tsutomu Hata, a former finance minister who headed a 35-member faction within the LDP. Afterwards Mr Hata announced he would be forming a new party to challenge the LDP in the election.
Mr Hata said voting against the LDP was a 'severe' choice for him, after serving as an LDP Diet member since 1969. 'I feel heart- breaking grief. But Japanese politics is now standing at the edge of a precipice. . . . It will either die or survive.'
The no-confidence motion was filed by opposition parties in protest at Mr Miyazawa's failure to implement his pledge to clean up the country's corrupt politics. The Socialist Party leader, Sadao Yamahana, called Mr Miyazawa a liar who had promised reform and then refused parliament a debate on it. He told the Prime Minister: 'You deserve to die tens of thousands of times for this crime.'
'I did not lie. I did not intend to lie,' Mr Miyazawa said afterwards. Referring to his promised political reforms, he said: 'I really wanted to do it. I believe it's something we must do.' But the issue became a convenient vehicle for a group of younger-generation politicians in the LDP to topple his indecisive and unpopular government, and attempt a radical realignment of Japanese politics.
'It's like the Berlin Wall coming down for Japan,' said Morihiro Hosokawa, who left the LDP last year to found the pro-reform Japan New Party. The LDP, however, still has a formidable support network, and will not easily be dislodged.
Fatal blow to old guard, page 9