Unlikely allies enlisted in Japanese political reforms

January 28, 1994|By Thomas Easton | Thomas Easton,Tokyo Bureau

TOKYO -- Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa sought assistance yesterday from two unlikely sources, the Japanese people and the foreign press, in his desperate battle for political reform.

Mr. Hosokawa delivered a rousing speech at an emergency meeting of a private advisory group comprising business, labor, media and political leaders that was formed two years ago in another time and under another administration.

The setting seemed intended to demonstrate that Mr. Hosokawa's efforts crossed all traditional lines. In the fashion of a U.S. politician, he asked the people of Japan to call and fax their local representatives.

Much of the news media typically covering the prime minister was not invited to the session, and the foreign media, typically left out, were eagerly courted.

Mr. Hosokawa launched a fresh approach, linking the failure of political change with embarrassment before the outside world -- always a sensitive issue in Japan.

"We must show that we can reform ourselves," he said, "that we have the capacity for self-purification and that we are a people with the intention and capacity to act as a nation which bears responsibility at home and within the international community."

The current session of the Diet, Japan's parliament, ends tomorrow, and Mr. Hosokawa explicitly referred to the hours in the interim as a critical period: "I believe that we shall never again have such an opportunity to achieve reform."

He reiterated suggestions that he might resign if reforms were not enacted. "I would not insist on the post of prime minister if I could not deliver on my promise to all of the people to realize political reform," he said.

Mr. Hosokawa has already extended his first deadline for reform from the end of 1993 to the end of this month, and after yesterday's meeting, he was quoted by the Kyodo Wire Service as recanting the thrust of his statement.

"I only uttered something [as] a matter of course as a general statement," Kyodo reported Mr. Hosokawa as saying. "I am not thinking of dissolving the House of Representatives or disbanding my Cabinet."

A major political reform bill cleared the lower house of parliament in November, but what had been initially thought of as an obligatory approval by the upper house became an impediment last week when the bill was rejected.

Approval can still come if a new compromise is reached or the original bill is passed by two-thirds of the lower house.

A resolution of the impasse could come from a dissolution of the current government, from continued efforts when a new session of the Diet begins next week or from a last-minute compromise.

Many commentators, having often been proved wrong in predicting the outcome of government efforts, now resort when talking about politics to the common Japanese expression "issun saki wa yami desu," roughly translated as, "three centimeters ahead, there is darkness."

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