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Despite Scandal, Japan's Ruling Party Keeps Lock on Power

April 27, 1989|KARL SCHOENBERGER | Times Staff Writer

Critics remain skeptical that the ruling party will attempt anything more than cosmetic changes in the political system. As it stands, massive spending is required to cultivate support in local constituencies, virtually dictating that successful politicians must bend the nominal rules on fund-raising.

'A Scanty Effort'

"The ruling party is talking about political reform, but if you examine the substance of their plan, all you see is some talk about restricting the sale of tickets to fund-raising parties--it's a scanty effort," said Teiko Kihira, vice chairwoman of the Japan League of Women's Voters.

"Takeshita's resignation announcement doesn't do anything to resolve the Recruit scandal," Kihira said. "This has tainted nearly the entire leadership of the Liberal Democratic Party, and even some of the opposition. It's structural corruption, and it's not going to be rooted out by cutting off the head."

Meanwhile, the hue and cry from the media continues. The newspaper Asahi, which broke the news of Recruit's ethically questionable stock transactions last summer and has maintained a lead role in disclosing the company's staggering program of political contributions, urged in an editorial Wednesday that the next administration dissolve the lower house and face the verdict of voters.

"The Recruit scandal revealed how rotten some politicians and those close to the incumbent and former prime ministers are," Asahi said. "This scandal will remain as an indelible stain in the postwar history of Japanese politics."

Takeshita's resignation "is only the beginning of the cleansing of Japan's rotten politics," the liberal newspaper said. "It would not be strange if the party is forced to turn over the helm of national politics to the opposition parties."

But an editorial in the conservative newspaper Yomiuri was more disparaging about the opposition.

"Although the support rate for the Takeshita Cabinet has plummeted to an all-time low, few have expectations of the opposition parties assuming political leadership," it said. "These parties should take this as severe public criticism. They are so divided over foreign and domestic policies that the public will not support an opposition government at this time."

Yet the major opposition parties--excluding the Communists--are keeping up the appearances of solidarity. Last week, leaders of the Japan Socialist Party, the Komeito or Clean Government Party, the Democratic Socialist Party and the Social Democratic Federation met in Kyoto to map out strategy for a coalition.

But the opposition lacks enough seats to wield any formal leverage to force dissolution or bring on a lower house election before the Liberal Democrats want one. It can only appeal to public opinion and try to shame the ruling party into submitting to an electoral test.

Meanwhile, little is being said about how the opposition parties would reconcile their formidable differences on policy. The Socialists advocate scrapping the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty and are friendly with North Korea, for example, while the Democratic Socialist Party adheres to a generally conservative ideology similar to the ruling party.

The public has expressed its displeasure in several recent local elections, suggesting that the ruling party will have to contend with a protest vote when half the seats in the less powerful upper house go up for grabs sometime in the summer.

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