THE PARLIAMENT of Japan created by voter rebellion of July 1993, in a rare fit of cohesion, wrote a new election system that will govern for the first time when its members face election tomorrow. The result expected would repudiate reform and throw the rascals back in.
The 1993 election turned on voter disgust with the endemic scandal enveloping the permanent ruling Liberal Democratic Party. After it, Liberal Democrats were in unaccustomed opposition to a cumbersome coalition. Then they were in the coalition. This year they ran it. Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto called the election early when the polls were propitious.
Before, Japanese electoral politics was less about principle and more about patronage. Now, that is still the case. Before, top civil servants made policy so it didn't matter what politicians said. Now, they still do.
Mr. Hashimoto's Liberal Democrats are expected to come in first place, with suspense resting on whether they will command an absolute parliamentary majority. Not that this can bring back the good old days of the permanent economic miracle. Japan's stagnant economy is the stuff of which election upsets are often made in Western democracies.
The election reform replaced multi-member parliamentary districts (rather like the Maryland House of Delegates) with 300 single-member districts (like the U.S. House of Representatives) and 200 seats chosen at large in proportion to parties' national showing (more like Israel). This is meant to force little parties to coalesce into a second national party capable of alternating in power.
It didn't happen. There are four major opposition parties, which found little to debate beyond whether a sales tax should be raised. The Social Democrats are the former perennial opposition who compromised their beliefs while sharing power and may be set back. The New Frontier Party, Democratic Party and perhaps the Communist Party (which espouses small business more than communism) may gain. Reform may bring the intended results yet, but not likely by next week.
Pub Date: 10/20/96