Japan picks instability
JAPANESE politics may never be the same again following the Liberal Democratic Party's loss of its Lower House majority on Sunday . . . but they might not be as different as many people had been led to expect. Too many Japanese voted for business as usual: the corruption-ridden LDP escaped the crushing defeat it seemed to deserve.
Many of those who voted against the old order gave their support instead for parties led by LDP defectors calling for an end to money politics but with little else to distinguish them from their former party. As a result the LDP may be able to continue in power, either as a minority government or in coalition with small and inexperienced parties. The alternative is a highly unstable coalition of seven parties spanning the political spectrum. Either way, political stagnation may well be the result, as the focus turns to keeping weak coalitions together.
LDP leader Kiichi Miyazawa is determined to ensure as little as possible will be allowed to change. He refused to resign yesterday, even though he accepted responsibility for his party's losses. He is certain to come under pressure from his own party to step down but, for the moment, he remains the leader of one of its most powerful factions.
The real question, however, is not who leads the party but how the government behaves in power. For the Japanese, the biggest issues are cleaner government and greater concern for the consumer and salaryman flowing from the breakdown of the LDP's cosy relationship with big business.
Abroad, interest centres on whether the new government will make further trade concessions which could open up Japanese markets. Also on the agenda, especially in Asia, is a more active Japanese role in international peacekeeping and regional security. But achieving the changes in its constitution needed to send more of its soldiers abroad would require a stronger government than the weekend's elections have made possible.