Japan's ruling elite in disarray

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The Independent Online
THE LARGEST faction in Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was split wide open yesterday as members of the powerful group disagreed publicly about the appointment of a new chairman to replace the disgraced Shin Kanemaru. As the prime minister and his cabinet members looked on helplessly, the real power brokers within the LDP bickered as if they were schoolboys arguing over the captaincy of a football team.

But the stakes are high. Before he was forced to resign over revelations of his links with organised crime and his acceptance of pounds 2m in illegal political donations, Mr Kanemaru was more powerful than the prime minister. In fact, in his position as head of the Takeshita faction, he was personally responsible for the appointment of the last four prime ministers of Japan.

Early yesterday, a committee of the Takeshita faction, which comprises 109 of the LDP's total of 383 parliamentarians, named Keizo Obuchi as the new chairman of the faction. Mr Obuchi, 55, has been in the Diet, or parliament, since 1963, and is a close ally of Noboru Takeshita, the former prime minister disgraced in the Recruit scandal.

The problem, however, is that Mr Kanemaru had wanted his protege, Ichiro Ozawa, to get the position. Mr Ozawa withdrew earlier in the week, but was pushing Tsutomu Hata, the finance minister, in his place. For the whole week, Mr Hata has been caught up in the struggle, completely ignoring his real job which is to preside over the world's second largest economy.

Even after Mr Obuchi was announced as the new faction chief, Mr Hata refused to give in, calling the selection process 'reckless' and 'faulty'. The dispute has nothing to do with ideology, political programmes or party policy. And it is not remotely connected with the public interest. It has everything to do with personal rivalries and loyalties in the LDP.

The most illuminating commentary came from a Tokyo pedestrian who told a television interviewer: 'Even children wouldn't do this.'