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Power struggle splits Japan's ruling party

By Geoffrey MurraySpecial correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / October 18, 1982



Tokyo

Japan seems destined for a period of political instability as its ruling party embarks on a fierce power struggle to find a successor for outgoing Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki.

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An advocate of harmony and consensus in politics, Suzuki quit last week after only two years in office. He had hoped to avert the factional strife that has periodically erupted in his Liberal Democratic Party's ranks.

But several days of intense negotiations have failed to produce one man behind whom the entire party can unite.

Instead, there are now four candidates. They must first undergo a primary election involving the entire Liberal Democratic Party membership of some 1.1 million. The top three vote-getters will then participate in a run-off two days later involving only the party's 421 members of the Diet (parliament).

Party elders, however, have banned campaigning for one week while they make a final attempt to avoid a divisive election. Given the wide differences that have already emerged, this would seem to be a forlorn hope.

The four men seeking the top post are those long expected: Toshio Komoto, in his early seventies, Yasuhiro Nakasone, in his mid-sixties, and Shintaro Abe and Ichiro Nakagawa, both in their late fifties. The general feeling is that only the first two have to be taken seriously, and that Abe and Nakagawa are merely testing the waters for a future premiership bid.

The primary election is reckoned to favor Komoto, who has strong grassroots and business support. But in a vote of dietmen alone, the pendulum would swing back to Nakasone, who can probably rely on the support of the party's ''mainstream'' factions containing about three-quarters of the Diet membership.

The question is whether the Liberal Democratic leadership would regard itself as honor-bound to rally behind Komoto should he prove an outstanding vote-getter in the primary and dispense with a run-off vote that could exacerbate growing differences within the party.

Whoever emerges the winner from the power struggle, the general direction of Japanese politics is unlikely to change radically. The differences between the two leading candidates are really slight ones of emphasis, not opposing political beliefs, befitting a party which has held power for over three decades with no clear-cut ideology to defend at the polling booths.

Mr. Nakasone, Prime Minister Suzuki's right-hand man and preferred successor, is an articulate self-assured veteran politician of more than 35 years, a champion of ''neoconservatism'' and defendant of old-fashioned Japanese nationalism.

He is labeled a hawk, but insists ''I'm a liberal. . . . I want Japan to take a middle course by international standards.'' He is an ardent advocate of constitutional revision ''to preserve the nation's true identity,'' arguing that the present constitution was imposed on Japan by outsiders (the United States) during the occupation and does not truly reflect Japanese national interests.

Part of this revision would be to strengthen the role of Japanese self-defense forces. A former head of the defense agency (and former Imperial Navy officer), Nakasone has long advocated more defense spending - ''not rearmament, but modernization and improvement of the (self-defense) forces so Japan can protect itself against attacks and secure its sea lanes to some extent.''