Japanese opposition parties agree to cooperate -- most of the time

After years of fruitless talk and maneuvering, Japan's long-powerless political opposition parties are beginning to get their act together. A new cooperation agreement reached by three opposition parties, however, is unlikely to bring the ruling Liberal Democratic Party tumbling down in the approaching upper- house elections -- even though the Liberal Democrats have only a razor-thin margin at present.

What it does indicate is that the opposition forces are at last trying to marshal themselves for a longer-range objective: a coalition government in the mid-1980s.

The new alignment draws the Socialists into cooperation with the buddhist-backed Komeito, which, in turn, was already in alliance with the Democratic Socialist Party. The extent of their combined efforts for the upper-house election in July is likely to be the placement of candidates in about 10 one-seat constituencies where the Liberal Democrats would otherwise have total monopoly.

The opposition parties have been stirred into action by the poor showing of the Liberal Democrats in last October's lower-house election. So pitiful was that result that the ruling party has had to work much more closely in committee stages with the opposition.

In addition, the Liberal Democrats virtually split in two over whether Masayoshi Ohira should stay on as prime minister. Now, with only a one-seat margin in the upper chamber, his political life is said to hang on how well the party fares in the coming contest.

Mr. Ohira is saying every effort should be made to retain single-party government. And a groundswell of opinion is forming that his party will quite possibly bounce back with a bigger margin.

In the meantime, opposition cooperation looks shaky despite the agreement.

It was only possible for any agreement to be reached because Komeito got the Socialists to renounce the Communists. Komeito and the Communists are like oil and water. They refuse to have anything to do with each other. And under the new agreement the Socialists also will not cooperate with the Communists in the upper-house campaign.

But there are snags. Although Socialist Party President Ichiro Asukata says the Communists will be excluded from any Cabinet formation in the future, he adds they will be invited to join his party at a later date. In that event Komeito would then sever all contact with the Socialists.

There are also claims that the opposition trio now has agreement on vital issues such as the Japan-US security treaty, self-defense forces, and nuclear-power plants. But, in fact, wide areas of disagreement still exist. In the case of the security treaty, Komeito appears to have recognized it, while the Socialists are firmly set on a course to dismantle it in the future.

According to Mr. Asukata, Japan will be drawn into war because of the existence of the security treaty, which he claims has been established by the United States for American convenience, not Japanese defense.

"Only by establishing a neutral, non-alliance policy can we reduce the danger of being attacked by other countries," he says. "Neutrality without weapons is much safer than neutrality with weapons."

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