Overnight, "continuity" has become the buzz word of Japan's
leaders. In the aftermath of the ruling party's devastating election
defeat Sunday, they're arguing that the country's economic reform
plans and foreign policies will remain unchanged.
Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto confirmed yesterday that he will
resign. But he insisted his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) will
carry on as before. "I don't think there's going to be any change in
the basic course, just in the actors," adds Foreign Ministry
spokesman Sadaaki Numata, talking about Japan's foreign policy.
"We'll have basic continuity."
But in reality, the transition may not be quite so smooth. The
political landscape has changed in ways that not only will disrupt
foreign policy, but also may delay the repair of the global economy
and affect international security.
On Sunday, voters overwhelmingly favored opposition candidates in
the election for half of the 252-seat upper house. The LDP won only
44 seats, far short of the 61 it held previously and the 69 it hoped
to gain for a majority. The shortfall means the LDP will have to
cooperate with several parties to get its legislation through the
Ideological differences will cause some delays. The Communist
Party, which gained nine seats, is in a better position to push its
pacifist agenda and could make it tougher for the LDP to win approval
for a new set of guidelines intended to make Tokyo more of a full
partner in the US-Japan security relationship.
Mr. Hashimoto's resignation may have a more immediate effect on
ties with Russia. He and Russian President Boris Yeltsin have
developed some personal chemistry in working toward a resolution of
territorial disputes left over from World War II, and the momentum
they generated now seems in jeopardy.
Economic reforms may be affected for two reasons. One is that
Japan's government has become reliant more on political leadership
than on its bureaucracy - thanks to scandals and mistakes that have
diminished the power of civil servants. But, for at least the next
few weeks, politicians will be concentrating exclusively on politics,
meaning that economic supervision will likely suffer. The ebb of the
world's second-largest economy is an international concern because
Japan's troubles could drag other economies down.
Tokyo's political and economic troubles especially concern Asian
leaders, who want a vigorous Japan to aid their own tenuous