Japanese voters making their choice Polls discount LDP's chances

July 18, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

TOKYO -- With the ruling Liberal Democratic Party facing probable defeat in the powerful lower house of Parliament, Japan's voters went to the polls today to choose between stability and change.

In his final appeal to the voters yesterday, Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa insisted that Japan would be thrown into chaos by any coalition "dragged around by the Socialists."

Former Liberal Democrat Morihiro Hosokawa, leader of the Japan New Party fighting its first lower-house battle, acknowledged that a defeat for the Liberal Democrats would create "an uncertain, unstable, fluid political situation." But he insisted that that is the price that must be paid "for reforms that will give hope for the future."

Polls by Japan's major newspapers predicted that a split in Mr. Miyazawa's party would make it impossible for the conservative Liberal Democrats to win a majority in the lower house, which elects the prime minister.

But a disaster for the Socialists would deny an alliance of five opposition parties the strength it needs to form a coalition without the Liberal Democrats, the polls predicted.

Interviewed on television, Mr. Miyazawa said that even if the Liberal Democrats do not win a majority they will emerge as the largest party and, as such, "will have the responsibility to run the government." He suggested that the party could form a "policy agreement" with an opposition group and rule as a "minority government" without forming an official coalition.

Despite widespread speculation about Mr. Miyazawa's own political demise, he gave no indication that he intends to step down. His term as president of the Liberal Democratic Party does not expire until Sept. 30, and he is eligible to run for another two-year term. All parties traditionally nominate their own chieftains for prime minister.

The Liberal Democrats took 227 seats, or 29 short of a majority, into the election, and any gain is likely to bolster ruling party support to retain Mr. Miyazawa.

In addition to a one-party minority government headed by the Liberal Democrats, political analysts cited the possibility of three forms of coalition governments. One would be an alliance between the Liberal Democrats and the middle-of-the-road Democratic Socialist Party. The other two would be opposition coalitions.

The Liberal Democrats have ruled the nation for the last 38 years.

Twice before -- in 1980 and 1990 -- the Liberal Democrats went into elections teetering on the brink of defeat, and each time voters, fearing instability from a multi-party opposition coalition, came running back into the conservative fold.

Polls detected a similar trend that was expected to enable the Liberal Democrats to increase their pre-election holdings, despite the sting of condemnation for corruption and failure to reform both themselves and politics in general.

It was Mr. Miyazawa's failure to enact political reforms that precipitated a successful no-confidence motion that forced the election.

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