Once unbeatable at the polls, the party has gone through a decade of gradual unravelling in a string of sordid scandals, and was last night staging one of the most graceless exits from power ever seen in a democratic system. The last LDP government, led by Kiichi Miyazawa, the Prime Minister, formally resigned yesterday morning, but an emergency Diet session to elect the new government was postponed last night. Party leaders will meet again this morning. 'I would like to form the cabinet,' said a frustrated Mr Hosokawa last night. 'But it depends on the situation tomorrow.'
There is now a real possibility that the second-richest country in the world may be without a government until Monday, since Emperor Akihito, who must inaugurate the new government, will be out of the country from this afternoon until Monday to attend the funeral of the King of Belgium. But such considerations did not seem to intrude on the selfish fit of pique of the men who have got used to ruling Japan as if by birthright.
Still unable fully to come to terms with its loss of power for the first time in 38 years, the LDP seems determined to play a spoiling game in parliament.
'I wish they were not so childish and would act in a more grown-up manner,' said Hajime Funada, a former LDP member who recently attached himself to the seven-party coalition which now has a majority in the Diet. The coalition yesterday proposed that Takako Doi, the former leader of the Socialist Party, should be speaker of the Lower House - an appointment that must be approved before the prime minister is voted in.
But the LDP complained about Ms Doi's selection, objected to the composition of the coalition's delegation to committee talks, raised further problems about how many days the special Diet session should go on and generally reduced the level of political debate to the petulant bickering of children squabbling over each other's marbles.
'We are not trying to be obstinate,' claimed Yoshiro Mori, the LDP's new secretary-general. 'But this is our first session in opposition. It is important to honour principles and abide by them,' said the spokesman for a party which has spent much of its political life circumventing principles and adapting the law to its own interests.
The LDP's real intention with its filibustering is to portray the coalition as too disorganised and fragmented to form a solid government. Continuing a tactic adopted by the party since it lost its abolute majority in elections three weeks ago, the new party leader, Yohei Kono, repeatedly criticised the coalition for not speaking with a single voice and for not having a coherent policy. The coalition runs from the left- wing Socialists through a Buddhist party to several conservative parties that split from the LDP itself.
But coalition leaders said the problem was with the LDP. 'The Japanese people made their judgement in the elections,' said Kozo Watanabe, of the Shinsei (Renewal) Party that is at the centre of the coalition. 'The LDP should therefore give way without making such a fuss.'
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