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.

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Louis van Gaal would have been impressed with Darren Fletcher’s performance against LA Galaxy during Manchester United’s 7-0 victory
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment