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Socialist Named Premier in Japan : Asia: Tomiichi Murayama is chosen with support of his party's archenemies. Analysts expect greater strain on U.S. trade relations, while Tokyo business world is shocked.

June 30, 1994|SAM JAMESON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TOKYO — Japan's wild politics took a stunning turn Wednesday as Socialist Tomiichi Murayama withstood the vigorous opposition of two former prime ministers and won this nation's top job--with the support of his party's archenemies.

Murayama's election as prime minister--he is the first Socialist to hold the position since the postwar poverty and confusion of 1947--sent shocks through the Japanese business world and was expected to raise alarm in Washington as well.

That's because Japan's Socialists have espoused views that disturb many, both here and abroad.

They have, for example, held the Communist government of North Korea in warm regard and have demanded that Japan reject any sanctions against Pyongyang over its resistance to inspections of its nuclear facilities.

The Socialists have advocated the abolition of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, though they have tempered their position. They argue that Japan's own armed forces are "unconstitutional but legal," and they oppose opening their nation's agricultural markets.

Analysts said Murayama's election will place new strains on U.S.-Japan trade relations because his government will probably be even less accommodating to the United States and largely unwilling to dismantle regulations that protect farmers'--or workers'--jobs.

As he began work to form a Cabinet this morning, Murayama acknowledged "the selection of me, a person with no experience, has created a feeling of uneasiness in various circles." He said he wanted to "put people's minds at ease."

The left-leaning Socialists, of course, will be reined in as they try to translate their ideology into practice and as they became part of a once-unimaginable coalition that will now attempt to govern Japan.

Their most powerful partners will be members of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party.

The Liberal Democrats have been the Socialists' bane, often ridiculing them, and key LDP leaders--including the two former prime ministers--fought a pitched battle Wednesday to prevent the ascension of Murayama, 70, the seventh of 11 children of a fisherman.

After the Liberal Democrats approved Murayama as their candidate to succeed Tsutomu Hata, who resigned as prime minister Saturday, former Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu suddenly declared himself a candidate for Japan's top job.

Bolting the Liberal Democrats less than two hours before the election, Kaifu, who was known as "Mr. Reform" when he served from 1989 to 1991, said he was acting to "preserve political reform."

"I cannot bring myself to write the name of Murayama on the ballot," Kaifu said of his opponent, who entered politics after a career as an activist and leader, first in a fishermen's union and then in the All Japan Prefectural and Municipal Workers Union.

Yasuhiro Nakasone, another former prime minister, noted the significant foreign policy challenges looming now for Japan, including a July 8-10 economic summit of major industrial nations in Naples, Italy, and the continuing North Korean crisis.

He declared that he could not back a Socialist like Murayama because it "runs counter to the national interest."

Before the balloting, Nakasone declared: "To protect Japan's destiny, I support Kaifu."

But by a vote of 261-214 (with 29 void ballots), Murayama--who has served as a city and prefectural assemblyman, a member of the lower house of Parliament since 1972 and chairman of his party since September--won the runoff election.

Former Foreign Minister Michio Watanabe said in advance that he would vote against Murayama--and he did. In all, 42 members of the Japan Socialist Party, the Liberal Democratic Party and the New Party Harbinger that joined the new coalition failed to follow party orders in the runoff, conducted 2 1/2 hours before Parliament ended its session.

Morihiro Hosokawa, another former prime minister, called the newest coalition government "an illicit union," noting that it links two parties with almost diametrically opposing views.

Ironically, the Socialists, who had long been staunch opponents of the LDP, gave the Liberal Democrats back a chunk of the clout they lost last summer after 38 years of unilateral rule.

"At last, we have returned to power," declared Yoshiro Mori, the LDP's second in command.

In a meeting that ended at almost 4 this morning, Murayama, Masayoshi Takemura, the Harbinger leader, and Yohei Kono, the LDP president, agreed to dub Murayama's government "the dove Cabinet" to promote peace.

They also agreed to end decision-making by bureaucrats and run a government led by politicians.

They rejected a Finance Ministry demand to guarantee to legislate by the end of the year a future increase in the 3% consumption tax. Instead, they promised only to "make efforts" to pass tax reforms by December.

Some Hata supporters predicted that Japan's newest prime minister, the seventh in the last five years, will preside, as his immediate predecessor had, over an unstable, short-lived government.

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