Coalition wins first showdown
ANALYSIS By Asia Correspondent HARVEY STOCKWIN
IN the end, after all the political wrangling was over, the new ruling coalition led by Japanese Prime Minister-elect Morihiro Hosokawa emerged from its first political test with flying colours.
But the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), as the time came for it to finally move on to the opposition benches after 38 years in power, showed itself to be a graceless loser, and gave advance warning that, as the largest single party in parliament, it could play the role of spoiler.
The LDP exuded the image of trying to hold on to power as, in the wake of the resignation of the last LDP cabinet, it opposed the appointment of Socialist Takako Doi as Speaker of the House of Representatives, and demanded a three-week-long Diet session with full debate on the new coalition's policies.
It would, of course, have been a disastrous start, had the coalition given way on the issue of Ms Doi - and it did no such thing.
Ms Doi was elected with a mandate to pursue reform of Diet procedures. The present Diet session will last for only 10 days, just as Mr Hosokawa insisted. Likewise there will not be major debate in those 10 days on policies which, quite naturally, the coalition has yet to formulate.
A second plus for the coalition was that when the votes took place in the two Houses of the Diet, the coalition overfulfilled itself, while the LDP underperformed. In each case, the LDP vote fell short of the number of LDP members while the coalition gotslightly more than expected.
Clearly the Mr Fix-it of the new coalition, former LDP secretary-general Ichiro Ozawa, had been doing his homework meticulously. All coalition partners have picked up support from among the 30 independents who won in the recent general election.
Thus the only gain the LDP appears to have made from two days of parliamentary haggling is that it extended the nominal life of the Miyazawa cabinet by 72 hours and prevented the new coalition from taking office until Monday at the earliest.
On the debit side of the political ledger, the bickering has undoubtedly dissipated some of the hope for change among the Japanese public.
Thus Mr Hosokawa will face an even tougher test when his administration finally takes over next week.
The new Prime Minister's only previous administrative experience was as governor of Yumamoto in the southern island of Kyushu for eight years.
No postwar prime minister of Japan has risen to the top with the same rapidity as has marked Mr Hosokawa's ascent. Resigning from the LDP, he formed his own Nihon Shinto (Japan New Party) only 15 months ago just in time for him and three others to get elected to the upper House of Councillors.
He resigned from the upper house just before the recent election where the Nihon Shinto and the Sakigake (New Forerunner Party) together won 49 seats, giving them the crucial casting vote in the new House of Representatives.
Thus Mr Hosokawa has demonstrated impeccable political timing, as well as good luck, in his fast rise up the political ladder. He will need both qualities in full measure if he is to fulfil the new government's objective of political reform.