Japan prime minister seeks to ease 'pervasive anxiety' over his election

July 02, 1994|By Thomas Easton | Thomas Easton,Tokyo Bureau of The Sun

TOKYO -- Socialist Party leader Tomiichi Murayama attempted to defuse yesterday what he acknowledged to be "pervasive anxiety" about his surprise election as prime minister of Japan.

He noted that the the word socialism no longer appears in the Socialist Party's platform.

"The party has changed with the times," he said.

Into what, however, remains unclear.

That was one of many murky areas he left unexplained at a news conference yesterday.

A week ago, as merely another member of the opposition, he seemed to support a dissolution of parliament and new elections.

Today, as newly elected prime minister, he said new elections would be a bad idea.

The Japanese people want a "stable government" that lasts, he said. His administration is the nation's fourth in the past year.

When attention shifted to Japan's security policies, Mr. Murayama drew chuckles when he loudly exclaimed that he is now "supreme commander" of the armed forces, but then he seemed to question whether the forces really have a role.

"Keeping our eye on the global situation, we should decide what the defense forces should be," he said.

Japan's allies have urged it take a more active international role, particularly in United Nations peacekeeping operations.

But the Socialist Party has traditionally opposed strengthening Japan's military.

Mr. Murayama also indicated that he will support existing security arrangements with the United States, the core of Japan's post-World War II defense strategy -- a policy that has long been derided by his party.

But the depth of that support -- a crucial issue because of the numerous issues stemming from Washington's huge military presence here -- is a subject of debate within the Japanese defense establishment.

Regarding next week's Group of Seven meeting of industrialized democracies, the new prime minister said that he looks forward to speaking "with humility" to President Clinton. He offered no explanation.

The new prime minister said he telephoned President Clinton and South Korean President Kim Young Sam to offer assurances of continuity in policies.

Adding to the general doubts and confusion is Mr. Murayama's relationship with his coalition partner, the Liberal Democratic Party, the conservative party that provides the bulk of his support in the Diet, or parliament. The LDP controls more than 200 votes to the Socialists' 74.

It was Mr. Murayama and the Socialist Party that helped topple the LDP last summer, ending its 37-year rule amid charges it had become too bloated and corrupt. Thursday, Mr. Murayama appointed many of his veteran LDP foes to Cabinet posts.

The Socialist-LDP marriage of convenience raises speculation that the LDP Cabinet secretaries may try to undermine Mr. Murayama. The LDP holds 13 of 20 Cabinet posts, including the key ministries of international trade and education.

"We are confused, we do not understand," said Shinichi Takashima, a 29-year old employee of the Industrial Bank of Japan, out with a half-dozen friends last night.

"There are no policies and no philosophies," added Uki Ikeda, a 29-year-old woman with the bank.

Said Kiwa Tamaishi, a 22-year-old office worker, "It's humorous; it's amazing; it will end soon."

An early poll by the Mainichi Shimbun, a leading newspaper, said that only 30 percent of the electorate supported the new government.

That is far less than the two preceding administrations, which each lasted only months.

The yen rose to another record high on foreign exchange markets as traders apparently concluded that the new administration would do little to open up Japan's closed markets and reduce the country's vast trade surpluses.

While many major governments greeted Mr. Murayama's election with lukewarm praise, North Korea was unabashedly enthusiastic, saying it enhanced peace in Asia and friendly relations.

Mr. Murayama's left-leaning party has long maintained close relations with North Korea's Stalinist regime.

Mr. Murayama once attended a birthday party in Pyongyang for President Kim Il Sung.

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