Lonely PM in terminal decline

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KIICHI MIYAZAWA may be the Prime Minister of Japan but he does not have much support from the people in his home constituency of Fukuyama in Hiroshima prefecture. 'He's not very strong this time, is he?' said the lady in a pottery shop in Fukuyama. And the woman in the newspaper stall just shrieked with laughter: 'That dead body - what to do?' ('Dead body' is the unforgiving Japanese equivalent of 'lame duck' in English.)

Fukuyama is a drab, grey city in the south-east of Japan, home of a steel industry in terminal decline and home, too, to a prime minister apparently similarly afflicted. Since his failure to implement political reforms which he had repeatedly promised to push through, and the subsequent vote of no confidence in parliament, which he lost, Mr Miyazawa has looked very lame indeed.

Even at the best of times Mr Miyazawa, 73, is a distant figure in the otherwise clannish world of Japanese politics. A graduate of the exclusive Tokyo University, he joined the Finance Ministry during the Second World War and has represented the people of Fukuyama in parliament since 1967.

'Mr Miyazawa is the first prime minister from Fukuyama, so we want to make sure his name is held high in the coming elections,' said Mikio Makimoto, a former mayor of the city who is working on the Prime Minister's election campaign. Mr Miyazawa seems to have little problem attracting establishment figures - the mayor of Fukuyama was also in the local campaign office yesterday. 'He just happened to be here,' explained Mr Makimoto.

Having served as minister of international trade and industry, of foreign affairs and of finance before becoming prime minister in 1991, Mr Miyazawa is unquestionably from the elite. His problem is with everyone else: the ordinary people of Japan, of whom less than 10 per cent now say they support him in opinion polls.

Even Mr Makimoto admits that these elections will be 'just a little difficult' for Mr Miyazawa. He rarely comes to Fukuyama, and has not developed the strong local powerbase that most politicians fall back on in hard times. He cuts a lonely figure; in parliament on the night of the no-confidence vote, he seemed close to tears.

'I am truly sorry we could not carry out political reform,' Mr Miyazawa said in a speech at the beginning of the week to start his re-election campaign. 'I would like to challenge this goal once again.' But there is little likelihood that he will get the chance; with such low ratings in the opinion polls, the Liberal Democratic Party is likely to suggest he step down to 'reflect deeply' on his failed reforms.

'I pity Mr Miyazawa,' said Moriyoshi Sato, a 72-year-old former LDP parliament member who joined the rebel Japan Renewal Party when it was set up by Tsutomu Hata two weeks ago. 'He doesn't have good advisers. But a prime minister of Japan with such low support rates should really step down.'