Japan's PM can only offer vague promises



The Diet yesterday convened what promises to be one of its tensest and most unpredictable parliamentary sessions for years, with a speech from the new Prime Minister, Ryutaro Hashimoto, which promised an invigorated economy and an active foreign policy, but shied away from issues which will dominate the 150-day sitting.

Mr Hashimoto's election on 11 January, in place of the Socialist, Tomiichi Murayama, marked the return to power of his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) after 19 months in the back seat of Japan's three-party coalition. It also signalled the start of serious electoral sparring between the LDP and the Shinshinto (New Frontier) party, the main opposition group, led by former conservative colleagues of Mr Hashimoto.

The next election will be the first to be held under a reformed first- past-the-post system, intended to eliminate corruption and promote competition among the parties. As a side effect it is also likely to cost half of incumbent Diet members their seats. To add to the uncertainty, voter apathy is at an all-time high: for the last parliamentary elections, to the Diet's Upper House, turn-out was less than 50 per cent.

The election must be called by the middle of 1997, but the Shinshinto opposition, led by Mr Hashimoto's former colleague, Ichiro Ozawa, is noisily demanding an immediate poll, which many commentators expect as early as the spring. The quiet hysteria which this prospect is provoking will leave little room for the concerted development of policies outlined yesterday by Mr Hashimoto.

"There are many changes that must be made, like it or not, in all aspects of society," he declared, "to cope with the collapse of Cold War structures, the borderless economy, Japan's enhanced global status, and other international changes." More than a year after the end of a painful recession, he promised full economic recovery by the end of 1996, and renewed deregulation, including a strengthening of the Fair Trade Commission, a notoriously toothless body in highly regulated Japan.

None of this amounts to more than a restatement of previous government policies. On foreign affairs, he was content to ape the vague affirmations of his predecessor: "active initiatives" in international peace-keeping, and the "consolidation and reduction" of unpopular American bases on the island of Okinawa.

The part of his speech which won most attention concerned a group of seven housing loan companies, whose prostration beneath a burden of bad debts has become the government's biggest policy headache. The companies, known as jusen, sowed the seeds of their own doom in the 1980s with a series of rash loans to companies, many of them associated with gangsters, and LDP politicians. The government's decision to bail them out with 685bn yen (pounds 4.3bn) of taxpayers' money has provoked fury and has been seized upon by Shinshinto as its principal weapon against Mr Hashimoto, who none the less reaffirmed his intention of pressing ahead with the plan.

But the opposition has its own Achilles heel in the form of Soka Gakkai, a Buddhist lay organisation which campaigns on Shinshinto's behalf. The millions of votes it can mobilise among its members represent a serious threat to Mr Hashimoto. The LDP's efforts to capitalise on a growing public perception of Soka Gakkai as a sinister quasi-political force will demand far more of Mr Hashimoto's energy than the worthy nostrums trotted out yesterday.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Bookkeeper - German Speaking - Part Time

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm of accountants based ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a financial services c...

Ashdown Group: Field Service Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum + car allowance and on call: Ashdown Group: A succes...

Recruitment Genius: Sales & Marketing Co-Ordinator

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Well established small company ...

Day In a Page

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk
Nepal earthquake: One man's desperate escape from Everest base camp after the disaster

Escape from Everest base camp

Nick Talbot was sitting in his tent when the tsunami of snow and rock hit. He was lucky to live, unlike his climbing partner just feet away...
Adopting high fibre diet could dramatically cut risk of bowel cancer, says study

What happened when 20 Americans swapped diets with 20 Africans?

Innovative study in the US produces remarkable results
Blake Lively and 'The Age of Adaline': Gossip Girl comes
of age

Gossip girl comes of age

Blake Lively is best known for playing an affluent teenager. Her role as a woman who is trapped forever at 29 is a greater challenge
Goat cuisine: Kid meat is coming to Ocado

Goat cuisine

It's loved by chefs, ethical, low in fat and delicious. So, will kid meat give lamb a run for its money?
14 best coat hooks

Hang on: 14 best coat hooks

Set the tone for the rest of your house with a stylish and functional coat rack in the hallway
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?