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Split Within Socialists Imperils Japan Coalition

September 11, 1993|SAM JAMESON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TOKYO — The first major threat to Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa's eight-party coalition emerged Friday as the Socialists failed to agree on a successor to outgoing Chairman Sadao Yamahana.

Forced to resign after the Socialists lost nearly half their seats in an election in July, Yamahana, who led the party into the post-election coalition, failed to get his own choice accepted as his successor. And when a gadfly threw his hat into the ring, Yamahana also failed to head off a party-wide vote that will probably highlight the divisions in his organization.

Competing for the party leadership post will be one lukewarm supporter and one vehement opponent of a Hosokawa electoral reform plan. They are Tomiichi Murayama, chairman of the party's Parliament Steering Committee, and Masatoshi Ito, a left-wing Buddhist priest. Voting will be conducted among 130,000 party members Sept. 18 and 19. Ballots will be counted Sept. 20.

Hosokawa, whose coalition holds only a five-seat majority, has pledged to assume "political responsibility" if he fails to get the reforms passed by the end of the year.

Socialist Vice Chairman Wataru Kubo, who had promised to carry on Yamahana's policies, dropped out in favor of Murayama only after Murayama signed a pledge Friday to back the Hosokawa reform plan and support the coalition.

Murayama earlier had been reported skeptical of the reform proposal to set up new parliamentary districts having only one representative instead of as many as six. A bloc of seats to be chosen through proportional representation would also be added.

Ito, a one-term upper house member who vowed to block the proposal, is expected to lose. But his candidacy will offer an outlet for dissent by left-wing Socialists who fear that the party's existence could be endangered by the reform.

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