Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Sun Almost Sets on Japan's Drive to Reform Its Politics with the Reform Bill Defeated, Prime Minister Hosokawa Has Limited Options in Dealing with the Ensuing Chaos

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Sun Almost Sets on Japan's Drive to Reform Its Politics with the Reform Bill Defeated, Prime Minister Hosokawa Has Limited Options in Dealing with the Ensuing Chaos

Article excerpt

WHEN Morihiro Hosokawa was chosen as Japan's prime minister five months ago, he vowed to make political reform his top priority. But last Friday's crushing defeat of a package bill on which Mr. Hosokawa had staked his political career has left his administration in disarray.

The bill was designed to introduce a more equitable electoral system to Japan and ban the practice of giving donations to individual politicians. Supporters say it would have prevented the kind of bribery scandals that have plagued Japanese politics for decades.

Yohei Kono, president of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, can hardly conceal his delight. For weeks his party had boycotted committee meetings debating the bill in an effort to force Hosokawa into a compromise. The LDP may be in a minority, but it is traditional for the ruling party in Japan to reach a consensus with the opposition before passing important legislation. "The contents of the bill and the government's attempts to force the bill through parliament were unacceptable to the upper house of parliament," Mr. Kono said on Friday evening.

The defeat of the bill has left Hosokawa with little alternative but to draft a compromise bill in cooperation with the opposition LDP. "I am not considering a Cabinet resignation.... We still have some days to go before the Diet (parliament) session ends.... There should be more room than before for a compromise," Hosokawa said.

But Hosokawa knows that any compromise acceptable to the LDP - the party which governed Japan for 38 unbroken years until it was ousted last year - will be far less reformist than the original bill.

Hosokawa also knows that time is running out. The present parliamentary session ends Jan. 29, and the government cannot afford a further delay in passing legislation that has already been held up months by opposition filibustering.

The political deadlock comes at a difficult time. Japan is currently mired in trade negotiations with the United States. Following the conclusion of the Uruguay round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade talks last month, Washington is once again getting tough with Japan over trade, and Hosokawa desperately needs to resolve these issues before he meets President Clinton in Washington on Feb. …

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