Japanese hardliner ducks the economic challenge

The new LDP leader may belie his fiery reputation, writes Richard Lloyd Parry

Tokyo - Ryutaro Hashimoto has just been elected leader of Japan's biggest political party at a time of profound economic crisis. "What the people want us to do quickest," the Minister of International Trade and Industry explained yesterday, after his landslide victory in the elections for the presidency of the right-wing Liberal Democrat Party, "is to put the economic recovery on track."

Growth is stumbling along at close to zero for the third consecutive year, unemployment is at a post-war high, and there are fears of an inexorable slide back into recession. Yet given the circumstances, Mr Hashimoto's address to the LDP was exceptionally underwhelming.

Last week the government committed the immense sum of 14.2 thousand billion yen in loans and public spending to jump-start the economy, only to have it denounced by economists as a confidence trick. The time, it would seem, is ripe for firm economic leadership.

But the coalition government remains stuck in an obscure political jam that promises no relief for several months to come.

Mr Hashimoto's case illustrates the complexities of the current situation. On the face of it, he is the most exciting personality seen in Japanese politics for a decade. An arrogant, combative conservative, he became a hero earlier this year by fending off American negotiators in a dispute over car imports. In August he reinforced his reputation as a patriot by attending services at a controversial war shrine on the 50th anniversary of Japan's Second World War defeat.

Foreign diplomats are wary of his nationalism; all month, television and newspapers have carried emblematic images of Mr Hashimoto practising his hobby - kendo, the art of fencing with bamboo swords. But as he takes over the LDP leadership from the moderate Foreign Minister, Yohei Kono, there is little chance that his dynamism will find any immediate expression.

The problem lies in the uneasy coalition which has governed Japan for 14 months. After 38 years of government, the LDP lost its majority in 1993 when party colleagues of Mr Hashimoto broke away to create a short- lived reform party. After a year of reconfigurations, the LDP returned to power as the largest partner in an uneasy alliance with its former enemies, the Social Democratic Party (SDP), and the small New Party, Sakigake.

The Prime Minister, Tomiichi Murayama, is a Socialist who has clung on to power through a year of crises and at the cost of jettisoning most of his party's Socialist policies. At a conference last week, his SDP acknowledged the inevitable by voting to dissolve and rename itself this autumn - though with no agreement as to what form the reconstituted party will take.

All along, the majority of cabinet posts have been held by Mr Hashimoto and his LDP colleagues. Their intention, plainly, is to win back their majority at the next general election, expected in spring. But none of the government parties is ready to go to the polls. In elections to the upper house of the Diet, all three suffered heavy losses to the opposition Shinshinto (New Frontier Party), another hybrid of reform groups and estranged conservative politicians.

Throughout his campaign for the LDP presidency, Mr Hashimoto has found himself caught in a bind. He must make it clear that he will be fighting the next election to win, and struggle to make his party distinctive and electable, while remaining conciliatory to the coalition partners.

Something has to give, and the ballast which all three parties have chosen to dump is the same: policy. During his presidential campaign, Mr Hashimoto made ritual noises about deregulation of Japan's markets. But his tough stand against opening up to American car imports makes this implausible. His great defining characteristic, nationalism, remains unacceptable to the Socialists. The situation is unlikely to change for months, until Socialists and liberals unshackle themselves and face the judgement of the electorate.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Head Chef

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Garden Centre complex base...

Recruitment Genius: Buyer

£36000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Buyer is required to join thi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45000: SThree: SThree Group have been well es...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen