Japan 'out of control' as political rivals lock horns

JAPAN'S cabinet yesterday passed a tax reform bill which has dogged politics for months, and was instrumental in bringing down the government of Morihiro Hosokawa earlier this year. But, if anything, it was a victory for the bureaucrats, particularly in the Ministry of Finance.

Up to three months ago, the Prime Minister who signed the bill into law, Tomiichi Murayama, staked his career on opposing an increase in sales taxes. As the Socialist leader in opposition, he argued that they were unfair to lower income families. Yesterday, all smiles for the cameras, he agreed the increases.

Politically, Japan is out of control. In the past 15 months, it has had four Prime Ministers, and debate has swung wildly from the most conservative to the most progressive camps. Should Japan aspire to a permanent seat on the UN Security Council? Is it necessary to apologise for the war? Is radical political reform necessary? How fast should the economy be deregulated and markets opened to imports? Each of these is central to the future of the country, and yet none has found any clear solution.

Holding up the debate is a fight to the death between two powerful men. In the conservative, 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' corner is Noboru Takeshita, the 70-year-old former prime minister and veteran of every significant political scandal in the last two decades in Japan. In the aggressive, pro-reform corner is Ichiro Ozawa, the 51- year-old former lieutenant of Mr Takeshita who shook up the political system last June - and forever alienated Mr Takeshita - by splitting the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and ending its 38-year run in office. Mr Ozawa argues that Japan must become a 'normal country' by improving its citizens' quality of life, curbing corporate and bureaucratic power, and playing a more responsible international role.

After last year's July elections, Mr Ozawa patched together a coalition dedicated to these aims. But internal squabbling paralysed the government, which finally fell in June. In its place a cynical coalition of the LDP and their former enemies, the Socialists, was inaugurated, headed by Mr Murayama. A faithful Socialist during the Cold War, Mr Murayama was nonetheless quick to adapt to the demands of government: within days of his appointment he gave up his opposition to the existence of the country's armed forces, to the security treaty with the US, to nuclear power plants and to Tokyo's recognition of South rather than North Korea.

Behind Mr Murayama stands Mr Takeshita. He has been accused in the Diet (parliament) of using gangsters to help him win the prime ministership in 1987, of taking money from the scandal- ridden Sagawa delivery company, and of misappropriating funds while finance minister. He was forced to resign as prime minister in 1989 because of his involvement in the Recruit shares-for-favours scandal: his private secretary committed suicide over the affair. His record is so notorious that even the LDP felt they could not keep him on their books, so he ran as an independent in the last elections.

Power is never transparent in Japan: Mr Takeshita is the kingmaker behind the current government. After 36 years in the Diet, his influence is considerable. His links with Mr Murayama go way back, to when the LDP and the Socialists held private meetings to ensure their public disagreements never actually paralysed government.

Mr Takeshita's master plan for the current coalition is to hold off any serious reform or deregulation measures while the LDP rebuilds its strength to return to single- party power. The Socialists are merely a means to that end. 'We have swallowed the Socialists and we have them in our stomach,' a magazine quoted him as saying. 'All that remains is for the gastric juices to digest them.'

Meanwhile Mr Ozawa is working furiously to build a coalition out of the 10 opposition parties in the Diet. But this is proving difficult: the initial plan to have the single new party up and running by this month has been delayed. But in the end Mr Ozawa, as a politician from a younger generation than Mr Takeshita, is in the stronger position. The biggest challenge to the old order is the ordinary Japanese consumer. The old racist arguments from the Agriculture Ministry that Japanese will not eat foreign apples, beef or oranges are now demonstrably untrue. One of the biggest hits during this summer with its record heat wave was a beer from Belgium, selling at nearly half the price of Japanese brews.

This consumer revolt will be magnified by the next elections, when a new voting system will at least partially redress the bias in the old electoral system towards the farming vote. The urban vote will not be so easy to buy, and will have a far more varied and cosmopolitan range of sectoral interests to satisfy than simply maintaining a high price for rice producers.

Mr Takeshita and his colleagues have no answer to these problems, which will not be addressed until Mr Ozawa or someone else from the pro-reform camp gets into the driving seat.

(Photograph omitted)

News
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Life and Style
tech
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
News
i100
Life and Style
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

DT Teacher - Graphics

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Group: Part time Design and Technology...

Graduate Pricing Analyst - 6 months / 1 year analytical experience

£20000 - £25000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Head of Department - English

Negotiable: Randstad Education Bristol: Head of Department for English. Wiltsh...

Trainee Helpdesk Analyst / 1st Line Application Support Analyst

£18000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits