Tokyo Vote Splits Ruling Party

WHEN Japanese speak of ``postwar'' these days, they are not referring to the Persian Gulf. Rather, they mean the expected aftermath of a war in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party over who should be the next governor of Tokyo. An election this Sunday will decide the matter, and maybe the future of the LDP.

The gubernatorial campaign has triggered an unusual open conflict between two camps in the LDP, with each side supporting a separate candidate and each side eager to control a city which has 10 percent of Japan's people, a budget larger than China's, and the lure of lucrative contracts for construction on Tokyo Bay.

``The key word in this election is the rift in the LDP,'' says Masayuki Fukuoka, a political analyst at Komazawa University.

And the key issue, at least for the LDP itself, is whether a group of powerful elderly politicians can beat off an attempt to let younger Japanese lead the nation.

The intraparty strife is so severe that big business, normally quick to back candidates, is mum in this campaign. Inside LDP offices, room partitions called ``Berlin Walls'' keep the two camps apart during the campaign. The battle between generations is further reflected in the age and style of two leading gubernatorial candidates.

The incumbent, Shunichi Suzuki, is 80 years old and displays his spryness by leaning over at campaign stops to put palms to floor. He is seeking a third term.

His opponent, former popular TV anchorman Hisanori Isomura, has tried to play up his more youthful age of 61 by such campaign feats as posing for photographers in a men's bath-house, sitting in a hot pool scrubbing a stranger's back.

``This election will be the beginning of a new order in Japanese politics,'' says Mr. Isomura. Fluent in English and French, he tells voters that he wants to make Tokyo ``more like Paris, like London, like New York.''

For now, Tokyo is like a battleground, although lesser-known candidates have given the campaign a carnival atmosphere. They include an inventor who calls himself a ``Ralph Nader of Japan,'' and an former flight attendant who wants to move the emperor's residence from Tokyo.

The LDP split in this election, say analysts, has its roots in the 1988-1989 Recruit scandal that prompted the resignations of two prime ministers, and the removal from the party of one of them, Yasuhiro Nakasone.

This not only brought in Toshiki Kaifu as a ``temporary'' prime minister, but allowed the youthful party secretary-general, Ichiro Ozawa, and his elder benefactor, Shin Kanemaru, to wield more power. All three are considered eager to move Japanese politics to a younger generation, while the older politicians tainted by the Recruit scandal are trying to make a comeback.

Mr. Ozawa tried to convince incumbent Suzuki not to run for governor again by citing his age. But Mr. Suzuki refused. Ozawa then recruited a non-politician, the well-known Isomura, and gave him the endorsement of the national LDP leadership.

Suzuki, meanwhile, gained the backing of LDP members in Tokyo and other political leaders. He also gained the image of a local ``underdog,'' fighting the ``heavy-handed'' tactics of Ozawa and the central authorities. Now Suzuki is ahead in the polls.

As a last-ditch maneuver, Isomura has promised a tax cut of 1 trillion yen ($7.2 billion), a huge amount that has put the national LDP on the spot.

If Suzuki wins, Ozawa will be held accountable and forced to resign, says Mr. Fukuoka. Since Ozawa is widely thought to be the power behind Mr. Kaifu, the prime minister might also fall before his term ends in October.

In the meantime, three former prime ministers and two would-be prime ministers have agreed to help each other recover from the Recruit scandal and revive their prospects within the party.

Last month, the two would-be prime ministers, Kiichi Miyazawa and Michio Watanabe, who each head separate LDP party factions, declared that an older politician should succeed Kaifu. A few days later, former Prime Minister Noburo Takeshita, who perhaps holds the most power in the party, said in a speech that Kaifu should serve until October.

This attempt to calm the political waters, however, has not stopped party rumors that a crisis is afoot. Sunday's vote will tell.

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