Hope and uncertainty

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 July, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 July, 1993, 12:00am

JAPANESE politics entered an era of great potential - and dangerous uncertainty - yesterday, when almost 40 years of rule by the conservative Liberal Democrats effectively ended. On the shoulders of the flimsy seven-party coalition that replaced them now rest all the hopes for reform and renewal of a country fed up with the corruption and self-serving politics of the old system.

That is both a reason for hope and for concern. If such an unlikely alliance of former Liberal Democrats, centrists and Socialists has any reason to hang together at all, it is to build a new, cleaner, style of politics. It must prove that Japan can be run by politicians who are not beholden to the big businesses that finance their campaigns and line their pockets, and that government can function without shoddy compromises brokered by politically bankrupt wheeler dealers.

Yet anti-corruption policies, vital though they are, do not make a programme for government. No matter how diverse their political instincts the seven parties must develop credible and effective policies for a country in recession. They must also show they are able to deal with the outside world in a manner befitting an economic super-power with the prospect of a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. They must develop strategies for dealing with pressure for trade concessions from the United States and take a role in security co-operation with other Asian nations.

The bland statements of commitment to continuity in foreign and defence policy issued yesterday are not enough. No more convincing is the promise that economic policy will be based on free competition, international co-operation and ''the stabilisation of the people's life''. These are all platitudes which remain meaningless until the coalition supplies the detail of policy strategies. The danger is that when the coalition partners try to put these good intentions into practice, their divergent ideologieswill be harder to reconcile. Weak compromises can only paper over the less spectacular cracks.

The question marks over the stability of this coalition are such that Japan is almost bound to be disappointed with the new politics. If it holds together, the new politics will all too closely resemble the old. If it falls apart, it will not be long before the LDP returns to power. The danger then is that a change to a younger leadership may be mistaken for a change of substance. The Japanese people may have to wait for another election before it gets a government both clean and effective.