The Foreign Minister, Tsutomu Hata, is still most likely to become prime minister after Mr Hosokawa's resignation over a loan-sharking scandal 12 days ago, but it is unclear when the seven-party coalition will agree on a unified policy for the next government.
But, as is almost always the case in Japanese politics, what was being said in public bore little relation to what was being plotted in private. The real issue behind the current political paralysis is the delicate mathematics of candidacies, constituencies and party endorsements for the next election. On the surface, the Socialists are trying to block proposals by the more right-leaning parties in the coalition on establishing contingencies for a naval blockade of North Korea, if such a move were ordered by the United Nations Security Council because of that country's defiance of nuclear-inspection safeguards.
The Socialists are objecting noisily that this would violate Japan's anti-war constitution. 'We have to make utmost efforts within the constraints of the pacifist constitution,' Tomiichi Murayama, chairman of the Socialist Party, said yesterday.
Opposing him was Ichiro Ozawa, kingmaker of the coalition, who belongs to the Japan Renewal Party. He fears Japan might again be ridiculed, as it was during the Gulf war, for its inability to decide quickly on a course of action during an international crisis.