Japanese tiptoe warily into a new political era: LDP faces freeze-out as reformers pick candidate for prime minister

JAPAN'S non-Communist opposition parties yesterday announced that they had formed a coalition and named their candidate for prime minister - Morihiro Hosokawa, the 55-year-old leader of the Japan New Party. It is now almost certain that next month he will preside over the first Japanese government in 38 years to exclude the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

In one sense it is the end of an era. Even if the coalition proves unable to agree on much beyond the need to oust the LDP, it is pledged to introduce reforms aimed at cleaning up Japanese politics. How much further it can go, or wants to go, is not yet clear. The prospective government quickly sought to reassure investors that it would not interfere with the LDP's record of economic achievement. Foreign allies are also being told that there will be no overnight change in Japan's policies, and the markets have been calm.

The seven-party 'non-LDP' coalition was yesterday joined by an eighth - the small trade union-based Rengo party, which has seats only in the upper house of the Diet. This simply emphasised the diversity of views in the grouping, which encompasses the Socialists, Japan's perennial opposition, and a number of more or less opportunist breakaways from the LDP, many of whom have few quarrels with their former colleagues on questions of policy.

Mr Hosokawa, although a senior member of the LDP for many years, is in a somewhat different category. He broke away to form his party 14 months ago, when it was by no means sure that Japan's post-war political dispensation was about to sunder. At the time he was thought to have condemned himself to irrelevance, but 12 days ago the Japan New Party won 36 seats in the lower house. After turning down a coalition offer from the LDP, he has used his base to gain concessions from the larger opposition parties.

The prospective prime minister is the descendant of feudal lords who held sway over the Kumamoto region of southern Japan. His maternal grandfather, Prince Fumimaro Konoe, twice served as prime minister in the 1930s and 1940s, committing suicide in 1945 on the day he was to have been arrested as a suspected war criminal by the Allied occupation authorities.

Mr Hosokawa served two terms as an LDP member in the upper house before becoming governor of Kumamoto prefecture, where he made a reputation as a clean and effective administrator. He would be Japan's second-youngest prime minister. A skiing champion whose good looks have given him a reputation as a womaniser, he makes a marked contrast to the aged incumbent, Kiichi Miyazawa. His relative youth and glamour would make it hard for the LDP to appoint another member of the corrupt old guard if it regains power, as it may well do.

Even if Mr Hosakawa's leadership proves brief, he will be credited with having begun a new era in Japan - as long as the coalition can enact legislation to stamp out corruption, ban political donations by companies and reform the electoral system to reduce politicians' need for huge campaign funds.

Ironically enough, Mr Hosukawa was regarded in his LDP days as a follower of Kakuei Tanaka, ousted as party kingpin in the 1970s in the first of many corruption scandals. Today the LDP is likely to choose as its new leader Yohei Kono, 56, who is regarded as a traitor by many party elders because he briefly defected in protest at Mr Tanaka's behaviour.

Leading article, page 19

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
This weekend's 'Big Hero 6' by Disney Animation Studios
arts + ents
News
i100
News
Budapest, 1989. Sleepware and panties.
newsDavid Hlynsky's images of Soviet Union shop windows shine a light on our consumerist culture
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
News
In humans, the ability to regulate the expression of genes through thoughts alone could open up an entirely new avenue for medicine.
science
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

Recruitment Genius: Transport Administrator / Planner

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Associate - London

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - HIGHEST QUALITY INTERNATIONAL FIRM - A...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Law Costs - London City

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - EXCELLENT FIRM - We have an outstandin...

Austen Lloyd: In-House Solicitor / Company Secretary - London

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: IN-HOUSE - NATIONAL CHARITY - An exciting and...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee