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)

people And here is why...
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
voicesBy the man who has
Arsene Wenger tried to sign Eden Hazard
footballAfter 18 years with Arsenal, here are 18 things he has still never done as the Gunners' manager
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson star in The Twilight Saga but will not be starring in the new Facebook mini-movies
tvKristen Stewart and Stephenie Meyer will choose female directrs
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
books(and not a Buzzfeed article in sight)
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
Arts and Entertainment
Twerking girls: Miley Cyrus's video for 'Wrecking Ball'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran performs at his Amazon Front Row event on Tuesday 30 September
musicHe spotted PM at private gig
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

QA/BA - Agile

£400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are currently seekin...

PPA Supply Teachers

£121 - £142 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Early Years, KS1 & 2 Prima...

Primary Supply Teacher

£121 - £142 per annum: Randstad Education Luton: Early Years, KS1 & 2 Prim...

Primary Supply Teacher

£121 - £142 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Primary supply teacher Hertford...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?