Hosokawa wins fight for reform

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The Independent Online
THE Japanese Prime Minister, Morihiro Hosokawa, won an important victory yesterday in his battle to reform Japan's corrupt political system, forcing a series of reform bills through an important parliamentary committee over the opposition of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The bills, which are designed to end Japan's system of money politics, will be put to the Lower House of the Diet (parliament) tomorrow, where they are expected to pass.

Meanwhile, splits emerged within the LDP itself, with some younger members openly criticising the party leadership for attempting to block reform. To forestall mutiny, the LDP suspended five of its members from the reform committee vote yesterday when they indicated they would side with the government. A larger number of LDP parliamentary members are likely to defy their party's whip tomorrow, and may even defect, further weakening the party that until July had ruled Japan uninterrupted for 38 years.

The entire political reform debate over the past five years has been characterised by LDP foot-dragging, as older members have been unwilling to change the system which virtually guaranteed them Diet seats and a steady income of 'political donations' from business corporations. But yesterday the determination of a younger generation of politicians, coupled with a high level of support for political reform from the general public, defeated the political old- timers.

Mr Hosokawa held talks into the early hours of yesterday morning with Yohei Kono, the head of the LDP, in a final attempt to find a compromise on political reform measures that would be acceptable to both sides. Mr Hosokawa has a majority in the Diet, but it is a time-honoured custom in Japan to seek dakyo, or compromise, among all parties when passing controversial legislation.

But as members of his government lamented throughout the day, conservatives within the LDP showed no signs of dakyo. So Mr Hosokawa decided to force a vote in the political reform committee, which he won. It was the first time that a proposal to change the electoral system was accepted by a Diet committee since the system was first devised 70 years ago.

The government is proposing to change the multi-seat constituency system, in which members of one party often compete against each other by showering money on voters, with a single-seat system, where competition should be more along policy lines. This method will be used to elect 274 MPs. To protect the interests of smaller parties, who fear single-seat constituencies will work against them, another 226 seats will be allocated under a countrywide system of proportional representation.

The reform proposals will also ban donations to individual politicians. Businesses will be allowed to give donations only to political parties, and any sum above 50,000 yen ( pounds 320) will have to be disclosed. The current disclosure limit is Y1.5m.

Mr Hosokawa plans to have the bills enacted by the middle of next month. He has already said that if political reform is not passed by the end of the year, he will resign.

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