Japan's Ruling Party Seeks New Face


JAPAN'S former education minister, Toshiki Kaifu, is expected to succeed Prime Minister Sosuke Uno tomorrow when the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) selects its 14th president. His selection signals a weakening of the long-entrenched rule by factional politics, analysts say. But few here expect his tenure will be little more than a caretaker reign.

The LDP, which was defeated in the July 23 upper-house elections, has sought a fresh, young face to hold onto the majority at the next general election, expected before the end of the year.

But the process for choosing the next premier highlights unwillingness for a real change on the part of faction leaders like former Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita.

The new LDP president will be voted in Wednesday as prime minister, replacing Sosuke Uno, who resigned to take responsibility for losing the party's majority in the upper house.

The party has suffered from public distrust in the wake of the shares-for-favors Recruit Company scandal, an unpopular sales tax, controversial agricultural policies, and the sex scandal surrounding Mr. Uno.

Whereas Uno was selected by Takeshita in a closed-door session, the LDP decided to openly elect its president. It reduced the number of legislators necessary for recommendation from 50 to 20, and adopted a secret balloting system, making it easier for LDP lawmakers to run.

Not everything has gone smoothly, however. Other party members, such as Secretary General Ryutaro Hashimoto and former Deputy Prime Minister Shin Kanemaru, were also put forth as likely candidates. But the LDP's most powerful faction, that headed by Takeshita, to which both Mr. Hashimoto and Mr. Kanemaru belong, decided not to field anyone. Instead, it suggested Kaifu from the party's smallest faction. Although the leader of that faction, 78-year-old Toshio Komoto, was willing to run himself, he yielded to mounting calls for a younger leader.

Since leaders like former Secretary General Shintaro Abe cannot run this time because of his connection with the Recruit scandal, the Takeshita and Abe factions have agreed to support Kaifu.

Takeshita avoided a split of his party's biggest faction by not supporting anyone from his group. Analysts here say Takeshita hopes that Abe will eventually succeed in a future election. Other Recruit-tainted leaders also hope to make a comeback after the next lower house election.

``Neither `too-old' nor `too-young' was good,'' says Shigezo Hayasaka. ``As a result, the name of Kaifu came up. He is from the smallest faction, having little career and power.'' The political insider said the next Cabinet would be the LDP's caretaker government until the next full-scale government could be put in place.

Until Thursday it had appeared that Kaifu would be the only candidate. But at the last moment, Yoshiro Hayashi, former health and welfare minister, and Shintaro Ishihara, former transport minister, announced their candidacies.

Nearly everyone here expects Kaifu to be chosen, since he is backed by the two major factions.

The opposition camp is likely to increase demands for a lower-house election, and the general election could come by the end of this year. No doubt the LDP, which now holds 295 seats in the 512-seat chamber, will lose more seats unless the next leader institutes political reforms and revises the sales tax within a short time. If the party faces a massive defeat again, he will be forced to resign.

``Despite the bosses' expectations, LDP's factions have started to slowly break, and generational change will proceed,'' says Mr. Hayasaka. ``Faction leaders have pressured faction members this time,'' adds Shoichi Oikawa of Japan's leading newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun. ``But, it also means that a faction can no longer be united without such pressure.''

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