Hata fights to save his coalition

TOKYO - Japan's new Prime Minister, Tsutomu Hata, was trying yesterday to avert new elections by persuading the Socialist Party to reconsider its decision to abandon his coalition government, which left him with an unworkable minority in the Diet (parliament), writes Terry McCarthy.

The Socialist Party chairman, Tomiichi Murayama, said he would only co-operate in passing this year's overdue budget, and was still against rejoining the government. While the stand-off continues, Mr Hata is unable to form a new cabinet, and Japan is essentially without political leadership.

Meanwhile, attention is focused on Kaishin, a right-wing grouping within the government, which was set up yesterday and whose formation was the reason for the Socialists' defection. The Kaishin (Innovation) group of 130 members is regarded as the forerunner of a new party which would campaign under its own banner in the next elections. The name of the group was chosen to echo another chaotic period in Japanese history, the Taika Kaishin or 'Great Change Reforms' of the 7th century, when a small group forced through radical reforms to end factional fighting, centralise government and modernise the country along Chinese lines.

The Socialists suspect the current Kaishin group was organised behind the scenes by Ichiro Ozawa, the autocratic powerbroker of the coalition, who has made no secret of his hostility to Socialist policies.

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