Japanese coalition has uncertain future

April 10, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

TOKYO -- Japan's rainbow coalition confronted the threat of a breakup yesterday as leaders of its eight parties failed to agree on policies that a successor to outgoing Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa should follow.

Nominally, they promised to choose a new leader from within their ranks and elect him prime minister by the end of this week. But quarrels among themselves belied the credibility of their pledge.

Leaders of the Japan Renewal Party and the Buddhist-backed Komei (Clean Government) Party insisted that, without a new policy agreement, they would balk at forming a new Cabinet within the present framework of seven parties in the lower house and eight in the upper chamber of Parliament. Socialists, whose leftist policies repeatedly hampered Mr. Hosokawa during his eight months in office, rejected any new agreement.

At stake are tax reforms, considered essential to support measures to end a three-year recession, and how a new Cabinet will deal with U.S.-Japan economic frictions and continuing fears of a North Korean nuclear weapons program.

Mr. Hosokawa, who resigned Friday, will stay until his successor is chosen.

Failure of the eight parties to agree on a new leader would fracture the coalition and force its segments to turn to the Liberal Democrats for help. Even united, the coalition holds only a five-seat majority in the lower house, which elects the prime minister.

Meanwhile, new splits within the coalition -- as well as the possibility of one within the Liberal Democratic Party, which lost its 38-year grasp on power last summer -- appeared one after another.

Mr. Hosokawa officially broke his once-close relationship with Chief Cabinet Secretary Masayoshi Takemura, head of the New Party Harbinger, by removing 40 of his followers from a joint parliamentary negotiating body and registering them in a new group under his sole leadership. Later, however, about 10 of the Hosokawa followers indicated that they would break with him and join Mr. Takemura.

Leaders of the Renewal and Komei parties again put out feelers to former Foreign Minister Michio Watanabe, the leader of the Liberal Democrats' third-largest faction, urging him to bolt his party and head a new coalition as prime minister. Yesterday, Mr. Watanabe all but accepted the invitation.

But mathematics remained the main obstacle. A Watanabe candidacy was certain to rupture the present coalition.

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