New party gets 4 members into Japan's parliament

September 02, 1992|By John E. Woodruff | John E. Woodruff,Tokyo Bureau

TOKYO -- The phone rang just before midnight one Sunday in May, and a stranger was on Yoshio "Terry" Terasawa's line.

"When I hung up, my wife said, 'I can guess what he wanted, and I want you to know this -- if you become a politician, I promise I'll divorce you,' " he recalled.

Twelve weeks after that May conversation, Mr. Terasawa is putting his apartment at the Watergate in Washington on the market and leaving behind 17 years spent as a Wall Street executive and four as a senior World Bank executive.

He is one of an improbable mix of four people elected July 26 to the upper house of the Diet, Japan's parliament, by an even more improbable political party.

The Japan New Party was thrown together in a matter of weeks, largely by the persistent telephone work of a single politician, barely in time to get 16 candidates' names on the ballot.

By election day, the party consisted of little more than its candidate list, a few news conferences, copying-machine announcements and thousands of made-in-China green handkerchiefs it sold for 1,000 yen ($7.87) apiece.

Also, a vaguely worded promise to clean up Japan's chronically scandal-ridden politics by throwing out the party that has governed for 36 years.

But such is the revulsion over the big-money politics of existing parties that the voters gave the JNP 3.6 million of their 50 million votes -- enough to elect four candidates in the proportional representation system that chooses 50 of the 126 upper house seats that are filled every three years.

Besides Mr. Terasawa, the new party's Diet members are:

* Morihiro Hosokawa, the man who called Mr. Terasawa in May. Mr. Hosokawa, a former provincial governor, was supported by the governing Liberal Democratic Party, but now he denounces the ruling party.

* Yuriko Koike, a former TV newscaster who showed up for the first day at her Diet office wearing a bright green safari jacket and a leopard-skin miniskirt. "I heard there are savage beasts and rare animals around here," she said.

* Kunitaro Takeda, an agricultural researcher well-respected with in his profession but little known to most Japanese.

"Four seats is unprecedented for a first run by a mini-party," said Kenzo Uchida, a political science professor.

Japan's three biggest opposition parties are the Socialists, who remain captives of their own left and took a drubbing in July; the clean-government Komeito, which is handicapped by its close links to the Buddhist Soka Gakkai sect; and the 70-year-old Japan Communist Party, which has been crippled by the collapse of communism worldwide.

None of the three nor of the several "mini-parties" has any hope nor, in most cases, any intention of ever taking power.

This cacophony of ineffectual opposition has been a prime asset of the governing conservatives, even through scandals that would have doomed any party in Washington or London.

"Japan doesn't need another religious or leftist party," Mr. Terasawa said. "The people want a voice they can feel secure with -- conservative but without the LDP's dirty money and coziness with the bureaucrats in the ministries."

His colloquial American English was one of several reminders that he had spent most of his adult life outside Japan -- half of his 34-year career with Nomura Securities, the world's biggest brokerage, and four years with the World Bank. He referred to the Nikkei, Japan's leading stock-exchange index, as "the Dow-Jones average."

"We aim to start by winning 25 to 30 seats in the next lower house election, and then work toward taking power within four to seven years," he said. "It'll take a lot of organizing and fund-raising."

The test could come as soon as next March, the earliest date anyone is mentioning for a lower house election. Or as late as February 1995, the constitutional deadline. The choice of an election date belongs to the party in power.

"We'll aim for a million members, and ask each member for 10,000 yen (about $78) a year," Mr. Terasawa said.

"And we'll start our organization by creating a think tank. It will have to be just as good and just as credible as the Brookings Institution. We need more clearly defined positions on a lot of issues."

His wife didn't divorce him but didn't work in his campaign either, he said.

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