The two faces of Japan's 'Socialist' leader

JAPAN'S new Socialist Prime Minister, Tomiichi Murayama, has been in power for only three days, but already he has a negative rating in the opinion polls. Japanese press and television chat shows have reduced the 70-year-old politician with his trademark shaggy eyebrows to a figure of ridicule. And in the United States, Japan's main foreign ally, Secretary of State Warren Christopher has said the election of a Socialist to head one of the world's most aggressively capitalist nations is 'very unusual'.

Quite a welcome to his new job. At a press conference on Friday to try to assert his authority and reassure his critics, Mr Murayama acknowledged that there were worries about his government, but said: 'My job is to do my best to get rid of these worries.' Then he added: 'I am the supreme commander.' The pathetic thing is that no one, at home or abroad, is ready to believe him.

According to an poll yesterday, 44 per cent of Japanese disapprove of Mr Murayama as their prime minister, compared to 37 per cent who approve of him. The last two prime ministers, Morihiro Hosokawa and Tsutomu Hata, had approval ratings of about 80 and 60 per cent respectively.

An even smaller percentage - 29 per cent - of respondents to the poll, conducted by the Yomiuri newspaper, approved of the bizarre coalition of the Socialists and the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) that put Mr Murayama into power. The two parties, for four decades bitter rivals on either side of the Cold War fence, joined hands last Wednesday only to block political reforms pioneered by the last government. 'Marriage of convenience', 'adhesive-tape government' and similar negative epithets have been used by the press to describe what many regard as a spectacularly cynical political manoeuvre.

But when the laughter stops, foreign governments must return to the fact that Japan is the world's second largest economy, has the largest aid budget and the largest trade surplus, and is simply too important to confine to a comic film studio for the duration of its weird political antics.

In a week's time, the other leaders of the Group of Seven nations will be meeting Mr Murayama in Naples. Who is he? What does he stand for? And will his Socialist Party try significantly to change Japanese policies?

Born in Oita prefecture, on the southern island of Kyushu, Mr Murayama became a labour leader before running for office in the local assembly. In 1972 he won a seat in the Diet (parliament), and since then has been on the left wing of the Socialist Party.

He put most of his energy into pension, welfare and labour issues during his time in the opposition. But he argued vociferously against the dispatch of Japanese peace-keeping troops to Cambodia in 1992.

He was one of the organisers of his party's protest against the peace-keeping bill in the Diet, when he and his colleagues delayed the vote with the infamous ox-walk, in which each deputy spent some 30 minutes walking from their seat to the voting box at the front of the house.

Japan's Socialist Party is a strange creature, hardly comparable with European Socialist parties grounded in working-class support.

The LDP delivered economic growth year after year for four decades, and was therefore guaranteed the majority of working-class votes. The Socialists were thus relegated to being a party of protest, and could develop extreme policies, confident that they would never attain power to implement them.

But now they have suddenly attained power, their support for North Korea, opposition to the Japan-US security treaty and other such policies have evaporated like vampires at dawn. Within 30 minutes during his news conference, Mr Murayama reversed 40 years of Socialist Party policies, and promised his party would act like the conservative parties that have ruled up to now.

'The word 'socialism' does not appear at all in our party platform,' said the lifelong Socialist.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Divers at Bouldnor Cliff underwater site in the Solent off the Isle of Wight, where the silt sample containing the einkorn DNA was found
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
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: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower