Last-minute deal eases Japanese political crisis

January 29, 1994|By Thomas Easton | Thomas Easton,Tokyo Bureau

TOKYO -- With only hours left in an emergency session of parliament, back room compromises resolved a major political crisis and cleared the way for Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa to concentrate on a trade issues with Washington and Japan's recession.

The last-minute deal enabled parliament today to take up a revised package of anti-corruption reforms that Mr. Hosokawa had staked his future on.

Many of Japan's most important political factions, meeting throughout Tokyo last night, quickly announced their support for the package.

The deal was hammered out by Mr. Hosokawa, opposition leader Yohei Kono, head of the once ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and Ichiro Ozawa, often referred to as the master puppeteer of Japanese politics.

The three emerged smiling with the reform package after several hours of negotiations late last night.

Few details of the agreement were released this morning but at the press conference, Mr. Hosokawa said he "largely gave in to the LDP."

News reports suggest that a critical concession may have been clauses forbidding corporate contributions to individuals, often cited as a corrupting influence on Japan's government.

"Japan's economy, people's trust in politics, and the international community's views toward Japan all hinge on the settlement of the reform bills," Mr. Hosokawa said at a joint news conference with Mr. Kono after midnight.

"The situation is severe," said Mr. Kono. "Internationally and nationally we have so many problems for which the Japanese government must take responsibility, and resolve . . . [we had to] reach this agreement."

At the news conference, Mr. Hosokawa and Mr. Kono borrowed a pen and signed the 10-point accord. The government-LDP reform bills are expected to be enacted in the next few months.

A different reform package passed the usually decisive lower house of parliament in November but stalled in the upper house and then was defeated Jan. 21.

The loss was a devastating blow to the Hosokawa administration, a coalition government formed last summer on a pledge to institute political reform after 37 years of rule by the LDP.

As skepticism about the prospects for reform increased, concerns rose about the government's ability to handle other issues.

The most important concern was that it would jeopardize major economic reforms. These include stimulating the economy, industrial deregulation and negotiations with the United States to open Japan's markets and mitigate its vast trade surpluses.

Mr. Hosokawa and President Clinton are scheduled to hold a summit Feb. 11 in Washington.

Passage of the reform bill may have come at considerable cost. Failure to get a ban on corporate contributions would be "very regrettable," said Tomiichi Murayama, chairman of the Social Democratic Party, the largest faction in the coalition government.

It was the defection of SDP party members that killed the original reform package last week.

Mr. Hosokawa defended last-minute concessions to the LDP as the necessary cost of pushing through a reform that has been stalled for six years. The path has now been opened for further improvements in the package, he said.

A second component of the package would change Japan's representative system, now based on large, multiple seat districts. Under the new system, 200 representatives will be elected from multiple seat districts and 300 from smaller, individual seat districts.

The move is intended to make members of parliament more accountable to constituents, while lowering the expense of elections by eliminating the cost of party members competing against each other in the same district.

The new rules will likely have a large impact on the makeup of the Diet, as the Japanese parliament is called, and inevitably will mean new elections.

But the success of the package will likely mean that parliament will not dissolve immediately. Mr. Hosokawa said he could not forecast how long his own seven-party coalition will last.

Within all of the major parties, there are strong feelings about the reform measures and many expect a profound reshuffling of all of the political parties in the near future.

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