Reaction good to PM's selection

THE immediate Japanese reaction to the new coalition cabinet selected by Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa was favourable without being overly enthusiastic.

Mr Hosokawa has done his best to assure the disparate coalition's longevity through a shrewd political balancing act, but one group which is almost certainly disappointed is the Japan New Party (JNP), founded and led by Mr Hosokawa himself.

Traditional factional practice in Japan requires that a prime minister from one faction is initially not too assertive in placing his supporters in top ministerial jobs. Mr Hosokawa has gone much further than this and has failed to appoint any other member of the JNP apart from himself.

While Mr Hosokawa's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) predecessors as premier for the past 38 years had to balance factions, Mr Hosokawa has had to balance seven political parties.

One technique he has used is to bring all seven leaders of the parties constituting the coalition into the Cabinet.

''Every cabinet meeting will be a coalition summit,'' as one source described it.

The chairman of Japan's Socialist Party, Sadao Yamahana, has been given the key post of special Minister for Political Reform.

The Socialists have also been given the plum post of Construction Minister.

As the largest single party in the coalition the Socialists have been given the most ministries, with their six being one more than those awarded to the Japan Renewal Party (JRP).

The JRP is composed of former members of what was once the largest Takeshita-Kanemaru faction within the LDP, who defected in June after voting against the LDP government.

Their leader, Tsutomu Hata, is Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister. JRP ministers also control the key ministries of finance, trade, agriculture and defence. (Mr Hata is the only minister with any prior cabinet experience).

But the main architect of the seven-party coalition, former LDP secretary-general Ichiro Ozawa has not received a cabinet post.

Mr Hosokawa offered him a ministry but Mr Ozawa declined, wishing to keep his political profile low for the time being.

Mr Hata lost no time stressing that the coalition would be true to its pledge to apologise to Asian countries for its behaviour prior to defeat in World War II.

Three other party bosses given cabinet posts were Clean Government leader Koshiro Ishida (Management and Co-ordination Agency), Democratic Socialist Party leader Keigo Ouchi (Health and Welfare), and Social Democratic Union leader Satsuki Eda (Science and Technology).

Prior to the coalition's formation, Mr Hosokawa formed an alliance with the New Forerunner Party and he reserved the key post of Chief Cabinet Secretary for the party's leader, Masayoshi Takemura.

In that post Mr Takemura will be chief government spokesman and will co-ordinate government policies. But perhaps Mr Takemura's most influential role will be as Prime Ministerial confidant.

One disappointment with the new cabinet is that it has not been possible to bring in more outsiders, as Mr Hosokawa hinted he might. The constitution insists only that a majority of ministers must be Diet members. There was talk of recruiting such ''stars'' as Sony chairman Akio Morita.

In the end there were only two outsiders, Tokyo University Professor Emeritus Akira Mikazuki, who takes over the justice portfolio, and former Labour Ministry bureaucrat and ambassador to Uruguay, Ryoko Akamatsu, who is in charge of education.

Ms Akamatsu has long worked for more equal opportunity for Japanese women, so she will be partially gratified that there are three women in the first Hosokawa cabinet, three more than most LDP Cabinets.