Crisis in Japan widens as more ruling party members split to form parties

June 23, 1993|By John E. Woodruff | John E. Woodruff,Tokyo Bureau

TOKYO -- Rebellion among Japan's governing Liberal Democrats spread to the parliament's upper house yesterday, as eight members of that chamber joined 35 lower house representatives in a mass resignation from the splintering party.

Yesterday's resignations brought to 53 the number of members of the Diet, Japan's parliament, who have formally left the LDP since last Friday, when former Finance Minister Tsutomu Hata led rebel LDP members in joining opposition parties to pull off a vote of no confidence in Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa's Cabinet.

In the powerful lower house, which names the prime minister, LDP strength has gone from 274 before last week's vote to 229 as of yesterday -- well short of a majority in the 511-seat house.

But much remained unanswered yesterday about the rebels' prospects of reaching their goal -- winning enough seats in a July 18 lower house election to join with old-line opposition parties in ending the LDP's 38-year lock on power.

If the LDP were to lose a majority in the July election, the next question would be who could work with whom. Divisions already are clear among the defectors who call themselves "reformers." Three parties will carry "reformist" colors, each putting up candidates in a lower house election for the first time.

Some reformist candidates are shying away from Mr. Hata's party because its gray eminence is Ichiro Ozawa, a former LDP secretary-general who was until months ago the chief protege of Japan's leading political kingmaker, Shin Kanemaru.

It was Mr. Kanemaru's arrest on tax-evasion charges last March, and the sight of investigators carrying tens of millions of dollars in bearer bonds, gold bars and cash out of his houses and offices, that led to public revulsion, eventually leading to last Friday's no-confidence vote.

Yesterday, the 43 defectors, led by Mr. Hata, were joined by another prominent party member, former Health Minister Tatsuo Ozawa. Mr. Hata carried their 44 resignation letters to Nagatacho, Tokyo's political quarter, and handed them over to the party secretary-general.

Mr. Hata's group, once the fifth-largest faction within the LDP, is set to declare itself a political party today.

Japan must have "a government that debates issues in the open, in depth and in terms the public can understand," Mr. Hata said yesterday. He said his party will put up about 100 candidates in the July 18 election that was called after Mr. Miyazawa dissolved the Diet in the wake of Friday's no-confidence vote.

The rebels' aim is to win enough lower house seats to form a coalition government with the help of some of Japan's older opposition parties, especially the Socialists, who have 137 seats in the current lower house.

Mr. Hata's group appears certain to be the biggest and best financed of the three centrist self-styled "reform" parties.

One poll published yesterday showed the Hata party leading the reform pack with about 9 percent of the vote. The LDP, which has habitually gathered one-third or more of the electorate for 38 years, drew 13 percent in that poll, which was taken during the weekend for Mainichi Shimbun, one of Japan's largest newspapers. Japanese news organizations give neither a margin error nor a response rate when they publish poll results.

Ten resigned LDP lower house members formed a separate reform-oriented party, named "Harbinger," Monday.

Also running under a "reform" banner is the Japan New Party, which elected four members to the Diet's upper house last year, an unusually strong showing for a newly formed party.

Founded to give voters a centrist alternative to the LDP's corruption, the Japan New Party says it plans to field more than three dozen candidates for the lower house.

Leaders of the LDP's remaining factions spent much of yesterday on damage control, trying to recover from the wave of public revulsion at scandals that have tied top party kingmakers to "yakuza" gangsters and massive quantities of unexplained money.

Seiroku Kajiyama, the LDP's secretary-general, put together an initial list of 202 party-backed candidates that pointedly left off, at least for now, former Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita. LDP officials said no one knows yet whether Mr. Takeshita, once known as the quintessential LDP warhorse, will get party backing in this year's election.

Mr. Takeshita's closest political mentor, Mr. Kanemaru, will go on trial for tax evasion just after the election. Mr. Kanemaru's troubles also have included allegations that he dined with a well-known mobster to enlist his help in silencing right-wing sound trucks that were ridiculing Mr. Takeshita in 1988 at the time Mr. Kanemaru was making him prime minister.

Mr. Takeshita later resigned, making him the ranking casualty of the Recruit stock-for-favors scandal.

Yesterday, the LDP also trotted out Toshiki Kaifu, the "Mr. Clean" of Japanese politics. Mr. Miyazawa shoved him out of the premiership 19 months ago in what turned out to be Mr. Kanemaru's last act of kingmaking.

Mr. Kaifu, who loyally voted against the no-confidence motion Friday, was named yesterday as the likely head of a panel of 60 "reform-minded" younger members who propose to stay within the LDP and support reformist candidates.

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