The 555 days of Tomiichi Murayama Prime minister quits: Japan will get ruling party government again.

January 06, 1996

THE FALL of Japan's coalition government is not likely to disrupt the controversial bail-out of mortgage-lending companies, President Clinton's visit in April or anything else. The Socialist prime minister was worn out after the Kobe earthquake, cult terrorism in the Tokyo subway, the collapse of real estate, the banking crisis, the protests over U.S. troops in Okinawa but mostly from championing the Liberal Democratic Party policies he had always opposed.

The once-and-future ruling party needed to get its act together. This the Liberal Democrats did last August in naming the blunt trade minister, Ryutaro Hashimoto, their leader. Tomiichi Murayama, Japan's only Socialist prime minister for 555 days until yesterday, abruptly decided that it is time for Mr. Hashimoto to carry his own water. This is expected to happen when the parliament meets to name a new government on Thursday.

The new prime minister will host President Clinton, take the heat for the public fund bail-out of mortgage companies and then lead the Liberal Democrats into elections later this year. These are now expected to simplify Japanese politics into something approaching a two-party system. The Socialists may have disappeared into another party by then.

No one expected the gentle, moderately leftist, pacifist, perennial oppositionist to last as prime minister of an impossible coalition in June 1994. That was made necessary by the chaotic election of 1993 and subsequent party games. But Mr. Murayama put a good face on it, slogged through hard times and became indispensable if not respected. And so his always-expected but long-postponed resignation came as a +V shock to the Japanese people.

In a political system of labyrinthine intrigue, his action appears to have been entirely personal. Mr. Murayama at 71 is tired, no longer necessary and losing authority in his own party. He decided he had had enough.

The balls that were up in the air in the Japanese economy and politics are still up in the air. The questions hovering over the security alliance with the United States as the bedrock of both countries' Asia policy still hover. The new government will be more openly Liberal Democratic, with its disguise removed, but in policies very like its predecessor.

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