And now -- Mr. Suzuki

Outsiders may be puzzled by the way Americans go about choosing their national leader. But Americans can look with no less wonder on the political process of some other democracies. Japan, for instance, through an intricate system of faction balancing within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, has brought to the fore a man whose name has been virtually unknown abroad. But this does not mean it has not selected an able leader.

On the contrary, the new prime minister, Zenko Suzuki, is a skilled and experienced politician who Japan-watchers believe could turn out to be an outstanding choice. He already has met the first test of leadership in Japan by putting together a strong Cabinet. It balances the various factions within the party. Moreover, Mr. Suzuki's demonstrated ability in the past for getting consensus and cooperation within the LDP suggests he will be able to manage the Cabinet well. The fact that he himself is not the subject of controversy -- as his predecessor Masayoshi Ohira was -- further strengthens his position.

Prime Minister Suzuki has had hardly any experience in foreign policy. His sole international brush with diplomacy was negotiating fishery quotas with the Soviet Union as Minister of Agriculture. He is, however, known to be well-informed and articulate. And, most important, he has appointed an internationalist -- Masayoshi Ito -- as foreign minister, which should assure a continuity of the Ohira diplomacy. Among the aspects of this policy that please Japan's ally, the United States, are close coordination with Washington on diplomatic and economic issues, support of US positions on Iran and Afghanistan, and a movement toward higher Japanese defense spending. It is hard to imagine, in fact, that Japan will not continue to assume a larger role and responsibility in the world. one commensurate with its economic power.

Besides steering his country's course abroad and coping with economic problems at home, the new prime minister gives indication he will also tackle corruption in Japanese politics, especially the question of the high cost of elections which close the field to many political aspirants. Few in Japan think Mr. Suzuki can reform Japan's unique party system overnight, but he set the right tone when he said: "We must reflect on the past and show we are a party capable of leading the country into the 1980s. We must purify ourselves and establish political morality."

All in all, a splendid beginning.

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