Ousted ruling party in Japan regains power Liberal Democrats control lower house of legislature after several rivals defect

September 06, 1997|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

TOKYO -- Riding a wave of defections from a rival party, Japan's Liberal Democratic Party recaptured control of the lower house of Parliament yesterday after a four-year hiatus.

It was a major symbolic victory for Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, who can claim much of the credit for rescuing his party from the rout it suffered in 1993, when a rebellion led by a rival divided the party that had ruled Japan since 1955 and tossed the LDP out of power.

With Hashimoto's star rising and his approval ratings high 20 months into his tenure, political analysts said he must now use his increased leverage to push through his promised reforms.

Hashimoto was visiting Beijing yesterday when Naoto Kitamura, a lawmaker from Hokkaido, announced he was tipping the balance of power in favor of the LDP.

Kitamura had been among the disgruntled LDP members who defected and helped bring down the government of then-Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa in 1993, but he quit the breakaway New Frontier Party a month ago.

His departure, the 11th since last fall's elections, gives the LDP 250 seats in the 500-member House of Representatives, to 249 seats for the five other parties and independents. The chairman of the lower house is a former LDP veteran who can be counted on as a tie-breaker to give the party a functional majority.

LDP Secretary General Koichi Kato said yesterday that the party will continue its ideologically strained alliance with its old coalition partners, the Social Democratic Party and New Party Sakigake.

While Hashimoto has been effective in luring disgruntled lower-house lawmakers of the New Frontier Party back to the LDP fold, analysts said he cannot expect to woo enough defectors to retake the upper house, the House of Councillors, where the LDP now controls only 113 of the 252 seats.

Hashimoto needs the upper house to pass much of the vital legislation to effect his administrative reforms and lead the LDP to victory in July 1998, when half the seats in the upper chamber will be up for grabs.

The major obstacles Hashimoto faces include a sharply factionalized LDP, a belt-tightening budget, a lackluster economy, re-emerging trade tensions with the United States and bureaucrats and vested interests likely to do their utmost to try to block his proposed package of deregulation and administrative reforms.

But the LDP's growing power will make it easier for Hashimoto to gain approval of new defense guidelines that will spell out what kinds of assistance Japan would offer the United States in the event of a security crisis in Asia, said analyst John Neuffer.

Pub Date: 9/06/97

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