Japan vote gives Nakasone stronger hand to pursue his rightist direction

By , Special correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone has passed his first national electoral test , seemingly winning support for his pro-American, pro-defense stance. In a triennial vote for half the seats in the upper House of Councilors, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) slightly increased its overall majority. It now holds at least 136 of the 252 seats in the chamber which plays a purely monitoring role in national politics, against 134 before.

The result was less important to the LDP, which holds a strong majority in the vital lower House of Representatives, than it was to Mr. Nakasone.

It was the first time the voters have had a chance to pass judgment on their controversial premier, who seems intent on moving further to the right. Nakasone took office last November purely on an internal party vote.

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It was a lackluster election. The voter turnout, 57 percent, was a postwar low. Electoral officials blamed a combination of circumstances, such as bad weather, lack of real issues, and the fact the party's future was not at stake. Another factor was confusion over the introduction of a proportional representation system for 50 of the 126 seats at stake, in which votes were counted on a national basis for parties rather than personalities.

Nakasone entered the election campaign with a hawkish image from his outspoken support for strengthening United States-Japan security ties and improving Japan's defense capabilities. The opposition parties claimed this would embroil Japan in any US-Soviet conflict, but the issue never caught fire.

Nakasone himself maintained a low profile, sticking to domestic issues of greatest voter concern: reform of the violence-stricken education system, cutting income taxes, and revitalizing the economy.

The prime minister was hoping to clearly demonstrate his vote-winning capabilities to strengthen his hold on the LDP, elements of which are still unhappy over the way his elevation to power was stage-managed by former Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka.

But despite being under a cloud because of his six-year-long trial in the Lockheed bribery case, Tanaka demonstrated once again his political power by having his supporters gain a third of the LDP seats won. (Ironically, as the votes were being tallied, it was announced that the verdict in the Lockheed case would be given on Oct. 12.)

There had been talk of the LDP winning up to 80 seats. If this proved beyond Nakasone's grasp, many political commentators were positive about his performance, pointing out that his many controversial statements had not cost the LDP any votes.

Although Nakasone did not campaign on international issues, these commentators felt he had received a strong vote of support for his bid to give Japan a larger voice in international affairs.

Even so, the LDP remains a party supported by a minority of voters. This was demonstrated most clearly under the proportional representation system where the ruling party appeared to have gained only 18 of the 50 seats. It did much better in the ordinary constituencies where personality often is more important than party.

The new system was designed to reduce the high cost of campaigning nationwide. But it had the side effect of obstructing normal anti-LDP cooperation among opposition parties and produced a dozen tiny, often one-issue, parties. Three of these gained a toehold. Most successful, with two seats, was a ''salaryman's party,'' dedicated to creating a better life for Japan's white-collar workers.

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