'Reform' gains in Tokyo election less than expected Ruling party defies predicted collapse

June 28, 1993|By John E. Woodruff | John E. Woodruff,Tokyo Bureau

TOKYO -- A self-proclaimed "reform" party surged in Tokyo municipal elections yesterday, but Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa's governing Liberal Democrats made small gains that defied widespread predictions of imminent collapse.

In a local election widely watched as a reality check for "reform" talk that has approached euphoria in recent weeks, the result was a strong splash of cold water.

It forced all sides to reassess widespread thoughts that numerous money-tainted political scandals would enable a coalition government to end the governing conservatives' 38-year monopoly on political power after next month's national election to the Diet, Japan's parliament.

Despite stunning victories by his own candidates, Morohiro Hosokawa, founder of the year-old "reformist" Japan New Party, would say no more than "so-so" about the election returns.

He was glad his party multiplied its position in the city assembly by a factor of 10 but frustrated that the LDP had actually managed to gain in precisely what had seemed to be its opponents' golden hour, he said.

The municipal election campaign opened June 18, the day the Diet made Mr. Miyazawa only the second LDP prime minister ever to lose a no-confidence vote.

Throughout the nine-day campaign, the governing conservatives' reputation stood at such low ebb that the municipal LDP never invited the prime minister to speak at a rally. Mr. Miyazawa had to open the campaign with a speech outside the national party's headquarters in Nagatacho, Tokyo's political center. Some candidates sent teams around to paste strips of plain paper over the words "Liberal Democratic Party" on their posters.

But last night, Seiroku Kajiyama, secretary-general of the national LDP, expressed "gratitude to the citizens of Tokyo" for voting his party a one-seat gain despite the corruption scandals that led to the no-confidence vote.

Mr. Hosokawa's "reformist" Japan New Party succeeded mainly in severely disabling the Socialists, the leading national opposition party that all "reform" sides are counting on as a coalition partner after next month's elections.

It failed totally to cut into the Liberal Democrats' strength.

By late last night, with all 128 seats decided, the governing LDP had claimed victory in 44, one more than it had in the outgoing assembly.

Mr. Hosokawa's "reformist" Japan New Party had elected a thumping 20 of its 22 candidates, leaping from 2 in the previous assembly and jumping over the collapsing Socialists to become the assembly's No. 3 party in only its second year of existence. The Socialists plummeted to 14 from 32, a distant fourth place and a single vote ahead of the fringe Japan Communist Party.

The Buddhist-affiliated Komeito, or Clean Government Party, held 25, compared with 26 in the previous assembly, and became the assembly's No. 2 party by standing still while the Socialists fell apart.

Any comparable outcome in next month's national elections to the Diet, Japan's parliament, would force all sides to recalculate the possibility of replacing LDP rule with some form of coalition government.

That is because "reform" parties' hopes for a coalition government have started with the assumption that they would cut deeply into the LDP's own strength, then join hands with the Socialists and Komeito to end the governing conservatives' long monopoly on power.

Tsutomu Hata, the former LDP finance minister who heads the newly formed "reformist" Shinseito, or Renaissance Party, stressed that last night's Tokyo metropolitan result was only a partial test run for next month's national election.

Mr. Hata's and one other newly founded "reform" party, both consisting entirely of former LDP lawmakers who helped bring down Mr. Miyazawa's government in a no-confidence vote June 18, were not organized in time to field candidates in the city election.

Those parties' votes are widely expected to cut more directly into the LDP's core strength than the Japan New Party managed to do last night.

On the other hand, Diet constituencies, unlike the metropolitan assembly's, are heavily weighted to rural and farming areas due to decades of delays in redistricting.

That farming emphasis usually helps the LDP, though in recent years farmers have begun to rebel as the governing conservatives have been forced to yield to foreigners' demands that Japan ease its barriers to foreign agricultural products.

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