Japan's Political Shake-Up

THE political tsunami that swept over Japan when Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa lost a no-confidence vote in parliament June 18 is altering the country's electoral landscape as it recedes.

Yesterday, 10 members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party broke off to form a new party dedicated to clean government. Tomorrow, another group of about 40 LDP lawmakers is expected to do likewise.

In the process, Japan is joining the ranks of other leading Western industrial allies that have faced a strong backlash against corruption, political stagnation, or both, as appears to be the case in Japan.

The backlash against corruption is coming largely from Japanese voters, who in recent weeks have seen yet another top political insider, Shin Kanemaru, engulfed in a multimillion-dollar bribery scandal. In addition, Mr. Miyazawa backed away from a modest set of political reforms, plunging his public-approval rating to 9 percent.

The backlash against stagnation, which is taking advantage of Miyazawa's weakness, is coming from a younger generation of LDP politicians who say they want a true two-party system in Japan, want more open debate about issues, and want to see their nation take on an international political role commensurate with its economic standing.

These are generally laudable objectives, although a more assertive Japanese role in international affairs could be expected to raise concerns elsewhere in Asia. But the LDP members who have cited these goals as reasons for splitting away from the party carry a burden of affiliation with the LDP: Many of them honed their political skills under the watchful eyes of the party's elder power brokers, several of whom have themselves been tainted by corruption scandals.

Japanese voters, traditionally wary of left-wing and splinter parties, have much to consider as elections, called for July 18, approach.

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