Japanese Socialists Leave Coalition Move Strips Prime Minister of Majority in Parliament Hours after His Election

Article excerpt

Japan was plunged into political turmoil early today when the Socialists walked out of the ruling coalition just hours after helping elect Tsutomu Hata as the new prime minister.

The move stripped the incoming prime minister of his parliamentary majority. Hata said he would try to persuade the Socialists to stay in the coalition.

The move brought new turmoil to the coalition after two weeks of bickering before the parties in the coalition united behind Hata.

The Socialists' departure, with their 74 seats, left the coalition with about 180 seats in the 511-seat lower house of Parliament. Hata had not even had time to select a Cabinet before the Socialists left.

The coalition dispute erupted when a group of conservative and centrist parties, led by Hata's Japan Renewal Party, agreed to unite in a single parliamentary bloc that excludes the leftist Socialists.

The action appeared to be a move by conservative power broker Ichiro Ozawa - Hata's top ally - to isolate the Socialists. Ozawa and the Socialists have fought endlessly over Ozawa's plans to raise the national sales tax to pay for a cut in the income tax.

Ozawa arranged for most of the parties in the coalition to unite in a single parliamentary bloc, while keeping the Socialists in the dark about the plan until after Hata's election.

"Trust (between the parties) has been lost, so this is a very dangerous move," Kozo Igarashi, a Socialist, said, speaking in a soft, shaky voice. "It was right after the prime minister had been decided. I'm telling you, this is outrageous."

The turmoil will make it unlikely that Japan will be able to respond with decisive market-opening measures in the face of U.S. threats of trade sanctions over the $59 billion annual U.S.-Japan trade imbalance.

American officials have demanded that Japan cut the red tape wielded by powerful bureaucrats in Tokyo, which they describe as a barrier to foreign products. …