Weak, indecisive governing coalition may beset Japan Prime minister struggles for allies in Parliament


TOKYO -- Despite a resounding victory for his party in national elections, Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto is having difficulty forming a new governing coalition, raising the likelihood that Japan's next government will be fragile and indecisive.

Political experts say it now looks likely that Hashimoto's Liberal Democratic Party will not be able to put together a coalition that ++ will give it a comfortable majority in the lower house of Parliament.

Instead, the Liberal Democrats might run a minority government, controlling the Cabinet but being forced to cooperate with other parties on a case-by-case basis to enact legislation. That could slow passage of laws to deregulate the economy or streamline Japan's bureaucracy.

"You're looking at the prospect of gridlock," said John Neuffer, a political analyst here. But he said the new government would not be in danger.

The Liberal Democratic Party took a step toward a minority government yesterday when it agreed with its two partners in the current coalition to cooperate on some policy issues, such as proposing a bill to reduce the number of ministries and agencies over five years.

The Social Democrats and the New Party Sakigake made it clear that they would not remain in a coalition and would not cooperate on all issues.

Hashimoto may attract enough independents and defectors from other parties to scrape together a majority by next Thursday, when the lower house of Parliament will meet to elect the new prime minister. It is certain to be him, even if his party does not have an absolute majority by then.

It was not supposed to turn out this way. The Oct. 20 election was seen as a resounding victory for the Liberal Democrats, who ruled Japan for most of the period since World War II until falling from power after voter disgust over corruption in 1993.

The problem, however, was that the LDP won so many seats that it has scared away potential partners, which fear being dominated in a coalition.

The Socialists were decimated in the election, winning only 15 seats, down from the 30 they held before. Party officials say its longtime supporters deserted the party at the polls because it had abandoned its principles by entering into the coalition with the Liberal Democrats. The new Socialist leader, Takako Doi, has vowed to stay out of the coalition this time.

Hashimoto will be able to count on the cooperation of a handful of independents. There have also been some defectors from the New Frontier Party, the largest opposition party, who could eventually join the Liberal Democrats.

Pub Date: 11/01/96

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