Japanese Reformers Revamp Democracy Government Proposals Aim to Shift Power from Rural to Urban Voters and Eliminate Political Corruption

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UNTIL December, the country with the world's second- largest economy will be absorbed with reinventing its democracy.

Japan's new government has dedicated itself almost solely to revamping politics, from how candidates should campaign to how many parties are needed to stir up debate in a nation long accustomed to one-party and bureaucratic rule.

"The next three months will be a moment of truth for Japanese politics," says Kazuo Aichi, policy director for the Japan Renewal Party. The prime minister, Morihiro Hosokawa, says he will resign if political reform fails to pass parliament by year's end.

Japan's lack of such basic democratic traditions as regular transfers of power between political parties has crippled its ability to cope with many challenges, say leaders of the seven-party coalition government. Japan must become a "normal" industrialized nation, says key coalition strategist Ichiro Ozawa, and modify its "groupism" mentality.

Other nations, especially the United States, may have to wait for answers on economic disputes while politicians tussle over the basics of governance. "If we succeed in political reform," Mr. Aichi says, "then we can address economic issues in full."

Japan first adopted the forms of Western democracy nearly 125 years ago, then redesigned them after World War II, and is now taking up the task again after the 38-year rule of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) ended in June amid money scandals.

For the past month, former opposition parties, both old and new, have patched together a government largely held together by their desire for political reforms aimed at preventing another LDP-style dynasty.

"The establishment of the coalition was one step toward breaking up collusive politics, in which politicians {often} lie and yet manage to get away with skirting responsibility," says Mr. Ozawa, a former LDP insider.

With some irony, analysts quote former LDP kingpin Shin Kanemaru, whose confession of his large-scale corruption one year ago sparked Japan's political upheaval. "It is necessary {for Japan} to undergo a catharsis by yielding the reins of government to opposition parties," Mr. Kanemaru reportedly said.

Such Jeffersonian sentiments are now coined by Japanese reformers. In their dreams of a fuller democracy, Ozawa and Prime Minister Hosokawa have echoed foreign analysts from the "revisionist" school who contend that Japan's "unique" culture has failed to fully adopt democracy. …