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New Government, Old Look : Can Hashimoto's Cabinet provide the needed reforms for Japan?

November 11, 1996

The new government of Japan is, in fact, the old Liberal Democratic Party revisited. Elected to a second term as Japan's prime minister, Ryutaro Hashimoto has appointed a Cabinet made up entirely of old-guard LDP members.

The party lost its 38-year grip on political power in 1993 after a series of corruption scandals. Its big test this time around: Can Hashimoto deliver on his election promises of regulatory and economic reforms? Or will the LDP get bogged down in its usual intraparty squabbling?

At best, the party has a weak political mandate, having fallen a dozen seats short of a majority in last month's elections for the lower house. Hashimoto was elected prime minister when the LDP worked out agreements with two smaller parties, the Social Democrats and New Party Sakigake. The minor partners received no Cabinet positions but have pledged their support to Hashimoto.

Putting a clear LDP stamp on the government, the prime minister has placed party veterans in second-in-command posts throughout the ministries, a departure from the practice of giving these slots to fresh political talent. Some analysts believe blanketing the ministries with senior LDP politicians is a ploy to rein in Tokyo's entrenched and powerful career bureaucrats, who resist change in Japan's highly structured economy and government.

Clearly, with his tenuous hold on government, Hashimoto will have less power than some former LDP leaders. But personally he is popular, and Washington may gain from that strength through progress on troublesome joint security issues as well as further opening of the Japanese economy.

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