Japanese PM fails to get deal on reform

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The Independent Online
TOKYO - The Japanese Prime Minister, Morihiro Hosokawa, failed early today to reach a compromise with the opposition leader, Yohei Kono, to ensure smooth passage through parliament of a long-delayed package of political reforms.

'Regretfully, we could not reach an agreement,' Mr Hosokawa told a news conference after his late-night talks with Mr Kono, who is president of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). 'I felt we could not tear down the wall between us.'

The breakdown in what is considered to be a negotiating method of last resort in Japanese politics threatened Mr Hosokawa's pledge to enact the measures by the end of the year. The package is designed to redraw Japan's cluttered electoral map, make elections less costly and plug loopholes in the country's lax anti-corruption laws.

In August, when Mr Hosokawa took office after a general election, he said he would resign if he did not meet his self-imposed deadline. His coalition ended 38 years of LDP rule, the latter part of it marred by embarrassing funding scandals.

Mr Hosokawa said he told Mr Kono his coalition would put the package to a vote in the Lower House before Friday. Mr Hosokawa is scheduled to go to Seattle to attend an Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) summit hosted by President Bill Clinton. 'I told him (Mr Kono) we are ready to go through with our schedule if they will not compromise,' Mr Hosokawa said.

Even if the measures got through the lower house, the LDP could adopt delaying tactics in the upper house, which needs about a month to deliberate on them. The current session of parliament is due to end on 15 December. Mr Hosokawa technically can extend it, but he still faces other important issues, such as US and other demands to open up Japan's closed domestic rice market, plans to get the country out of a prolonged recession and tax cuts that are pending. In all of this, he needs to deal with the LDP.

On the other hand, he enjoys high popularity among voters. Recent opinion polls gave him about 70 per cent acceptability - the highest for a prime minister since the Second World War.

Failure to act on political reform has forced the resignation of two previous LDP governments, the latest in June. In one form or another, the measures have been under discussion in parliament for about five years.