THE selection of a new Japanese leader moved from the back room to the ballot box yesterday as the ruling Liberal Democratic Party voted to give veteran politician Kiichi Miyazawa a two-year term.The vote for the elder statesman by a large majority of LDP legislators and party members only confirms a deal struck behind the scenes a month ago by three of the LDP's five factions. As party president, Mr. Miyazawa will become prime minister around Nov. 5 in a vote by the LDP-dominated lower house of parliament, just in time for him to face a number of international challenges. Touchy trade issues with the United States, including a ban on rice imports into Japan, will be high on the agenda during a visit to Tokyo by President Bush in late November, just before the emotion-charged 50th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Miyazawa, who may be forced to open Japan's protected rice market to help move along the Uruguay Round trade talks, said during the campaign that Japan has done about all it can do to correct a widening trade imbalance with the US. He seeks to end the "big brother, little brother" relationship with the US. As a fluent English speaker, Miyazawa was selected in part to improve Japan's ties with the US, as well as to help shape a new role for Japan in international affairs. He will likely preside over parliament's expected approval next month of a measure to allow Japanese troops into United Nations peacekeeping forces. Despite the weighty issues facing Japan, the one week of campaigning before yesterday's party vote was short of debate among three contenders for the post of party president. This reflected the fact that a deal had already been struck and proved the strength of the LDP's hold on Japanese politics for the past 36 years. Apathy and cynicism toward the election was strong among many Japanese. "Miyazawa is always smiling," said one Tokyo salaryman, "while the high land prices prevent me from buying a home." With his selection seen as a foregone conclusion, only 55 percent of the party's rank-and-file bothered to vote, far below previous elections. Almost one in two Japanese expects little or nothing from Miyazawa, according to a Yomiuri newspaper poll. NHK television found only 36 percent of those polled believed Miyazawa could deliver on campaign promises to reform the election system and be an active player in foreign affairs. Miyazawa promised during the campaign to correct Japan's grossly imbalanced voting power between districts and to reform the multiseat constituency electoral system within one year. Most analysts predict that Miyazawa, who heads the second largest faction in the LDP, would be beholden on most policy matters to the largest faction, headed by Shin Kanemaru and former Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita. Miyazawa won 207 of the 391 votes cast by LDP legislators. He won another 78 of 101 votes allotted to the rest of the party's 1.7 million members, for a needed majority of 285 votes. The formal race for LDP leader was watched mainly to see how the two other contenders would fare. The second-place finisher would have his chances boosted of being selected for the party leadership next time. Michio Watanabe, leader of the fourth largest faction, came in second with 120 votes while Hiroshi Mitsuzuka, whose faction moved from second to third largest after recent defections, won only 87 votes. These results will likely be used to determine how many Cabinet posts will be given to each faction. Despite the election's expected outcome, Japanese newspaper reported "hundreds of millions of yen" was pumped into the campaign to ensure loyal voting by members of each faction. Miyazawa's selection will mark a return to the nation's high post of the first LDP politician tainted by the 1988-89 Recruit scandal. He will be replacing Toshiki Kaifu, who was selected for his "Mr. Clean" image two years ago when the Recruit crisis caused a massive upset among the party leadership. Miyazawa resigned in 1988 when he was linked to the stocks-for-favor scandal. His return to power may open the way for other tainted LDP leaders to become prime minister.