Hosokawa stakes all on reform programme: New Japanese PM says he will quit if bills are not passed by end of year

THE new Japanese Prime Minister, Morihiro Hosokawa, yesterday said he would resign if he could not get political-reform bills through parliament by the end of the year. Mr Hosokawa, in his first news conference since taking office on Monday, also said Japan was to blame for the Pacific war 50 years ago and that his government was considering how to apologise for Japan's aggression.

Mr Hosokawa heads a seven-party coalition which ended 38 years of rule by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in the Diet (parliament). The single issue which binds the coalition together is the enactment of laws to reform political funding and the electoral system. By putting his job on the line Mr Hosokawa hoped to show his seriousness about real reform. All his predecessors since the 1988 Recruit scandal also promised reform and all failed to honour their promises.

Although Mr Hosokawa was short on concrete policy initiatives, he succeeded in creating a more lively, responsive image than that of his LDP predecessors. He stood for the entire press conference rather than lounging in an armchair like the last prime minister, Kiichi Miyazawa and he solicited reporters' questions.

Nor was he wearing the Diet pin in his buttonhole. The pin, a golden chrysanthemum on a small velvet cushion given to all Diet members, was worn as a particular badge of honour by LDP stalwarts. But Mr Hosokawa, responding to a reporter's question, said dismissively: 'It is not my style to wear one.'

He indicated he was staking his job on the passage of the bills. 'I am going to make an all-out effort to pass political-reform bills by the end of this year.' The reforms that his coalition envisages would change the way elections are fought and in theory should make redundant the corrupt money politics which kept the LDP in power.

The other bugbear of previous prime ministers - Japan's Second World War record - did not deter Mr Hosokawa either. 'It was an aggressive war and a wrong war,' he said, the clearest admission yet from a Japanese prime minister that Japan's army attacked China and South-east Asia, and did not simply 'move into'these territories, as school textbooks have maintained up to now.

The Deputy Prime Minister, Tsutomu Hata, has also indicated that the new government will issue a comprehensive apology for the war so that Japanese diplomacy can throw off some of the shackles of the past in its dealings with other Asian countries. And in the final days of the LDP cabinet last week the government finally admitted the Japanese army forcefully abducted tens of thousands of women to work as sex slaves during the war.

On the economy, Mr Hosokawa had no fresh initiatives to offer. Japan is in the midst of a double-dip recession far harsher than planners had predicted, but he rejected quick-fix measures to jump-start the economy, such as an income-tax cut or increased government spending financed by deficit-covering bonds.

He indicated that income-tax cuts, recommended by many private economists as a way of revitalising consumer spending, should be considered only in the context of an overhaul of the entire taxation system.

Leading article, page 17

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