Murayama ‘likely to call for polls soon’

Split in shaky Social Democrat Party may lead to govt’s collapse, says ex-PM Hosokawa.

JAPANESE Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama will call for elections “soon” as the split within his shaky Social Democrat Party (SDP) may lead to the government’s collapse, according to former Japanese Premier Morihiro Hosokawa.

He told The Sunday Times in an interview yesterday that there was a possibility that Mr Murayama might dissolve the Diet and announce polls when it resumed on Friday.

“The current government may fall any time now as it is facing a crisis,” said Mr Hosokawa, who is in Singapore on a two-day private visit.

He was responding to a question on how long the Murayama government would remain in power.

The SDP and the conservative Liberal Democrat Party (LDP) formed a coalition government in late June with a smaller party, the New Party Sakigake.

But last month, Mr Murayama decided to hold a convention later this month to discuss SDP’s possible dissolution, despite his own reservations about the dangers of “hasty” action.

Left-wingers among the Socialists are opposed to his move for fear of compromising its policies further.

The SDP had already abandoned its objections to the existence of the self-defence forces and an increase in an unpopular tax on consumption.

Mr Hosokawa, who resigned in April last year because of a financial scandal, said that the SDP split threatened the coalition government.

Speaking through an interpreter, he said that in the current state of political flux, the government could be “replaced any time”.

“Within the next few days, a clearer picture of the situation will emerge,” he said.

Now a member of the Lower House in the Japanese Diet, Mr Hosokawa, 57, disbanded his moderate Japan New Party last month and joined other former coalition forces to form the New Frontier Party (NFP) – the country’s largest opposition party.

He said that the NFP stood a 50-per-cent chance of forming the next government, adding that the party had a “promising” slate of candidates for the next election.

“There is a likelihood that we will come into power,” he said.

Recent polls in the Yomiuri Shimbun and Asahi Shimbun showed that Japan’s NFP now ranked second in popular support behind the LDP.

He said that the NFP, with 170 seats in the Diet, would face stiff competition from the LDP’s 200-odd seats.

The next polls would also be held under the reformed electoral system which would be a combination of 300 single-seat constituencies and a proportional representation system of 200 seats for the Lower House.

“It will be a close fight between these two major parties,” he said.

During the 30-minute interview at the residence of the Japanese Ambassador here in Tyersall Road, he also touched on Japan’s aggression in Asia during World War II.

Responding to a question, he stressed that while it was “inappropriate” for some Japanese ministers to ignore the country’s actions in the war, Japan and the countries affected should move “forward” and not “dig up the past”.

Mr Hosokawa, who is in Singapore as part of a regional tour which will take in South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, said that he met Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew for talks.

He said that besides discussing Japan’s political situation with Mr Goh and Mr Lee, they also talked about bilateral and regional issues. The tour, he said, gave him a chance to “build a network of personal ties”.

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