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Uno May Resign After Party Defeat : Japan’s Leader Reported Ready to Assume Blame for 1st National Loss

Times Staff Writer

Japanese Prime Minister Sosuke Uno was reported preparing to announce his resignation today after the ruling Liberal Democratic Party suffered a humiliating defeat Sunday in an election for the upper house of Parliament.

Women, farmers and shopkeepers defected to the Socialist Party in record numbers in a tax and scandal revolt, handing the ruling party its first defeat in a national election since it was formed in 1955.

NHK, the semi-governmental radio and TV network, reported that Uno was planning to give an unscheduled press conference to announce his intention to resign to accept responsibility for the defeat.

Uno reportedly informed both his chief Cabinet secretary, Masajuro Shiokawa, and ruling party officials of his intention to step down.

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13 Seats Shy of Majority

From a 17-seat majority in the last election three years ago, the conservatives plummeted to at least 13 seats shy of a majority in the 252-member House of Councillors, or upper house, of Parliament.

Socialists, meanwhile, increased their holdings by at least 18 seats in the upper house, where all bills except the budget and treaties must be approved. Half the seats were at stake.

With 21 of the 126 races yet to be determined, Socialists had outstripped the Liberal Democrats 40 to 31.

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The results were so overwhelming that only three hours after 65% of Japan’s 90.3 million voters finished casting ballots, NHK declared the conservatives defeated.

In losing its stranglehold on legislation, the ruling party will be forced to seek a coalition with middle-of-the-road opposition parties or to negotiate every bill with the opposition parties.

Three ruling party leaders immediately called for Uno’s resignation--also without waiting for the final vote tally.

Declaring that the outcome had created “the greatest party crisis since its founding,” former Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki demanded that responsibility for the debacle be “made clear.” Toshio Komoto, a former deputy prime minister, also called for an accounting of “responsibility.”

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Party elder Raizo Matsuno was more direct. “It will be impossible for a prime minister defeated in an election to continue to carry out politics,” he said.

Major factional leaders, however, refused to comment or offered vague support for Uno to stay in office until the term he inherited from Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita ends Oct. 30.

Opposition leaders immediately called for Uno’s resignation and an early dissolution of the lower house.

Including incumbents not up for reelection, the Liberal Democrats had nailed down 104 seats, compared to 60 for the Socialists. All opposition forces, however, had already secured 127 seats--exactly equal to a simple majority.

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No more than 10 additional Liberal Democrats still held hopes of winning seats.

A new pan-opposition alliance organized by the labor federation Rengo (Japan Private Sector Trade Union Confederation) elected 11 of its 12 candidates. The new group, analysts said, could form the core of an opposition-led coalition should the Liberal Democrats lose their majority in a future election for the lower house, which elects the prime minister.

The result ensured that the ruling party will remain in disarray, with no effective leadership for an unpredictable period.

Pointing to a 5% real growth expected in this year’s gross national product, however, business leaders expressed confidence that the economy would suffer no immediate setback.

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The Tokyo Foreign Exchange Market, however, opened today with the yen declining to 143.25 yen to the dollar, 1.10 points below Friday’s close.

Some analysts predicted that voters would adopt a more conservative attitude in any lower house election, where leadership of the government will be at stake.

One TV survey of voters leaving the polls Sunday found that two-thirds of those who cast ballots for opposition candidates were voting against the Liberal Democrats, rather than in favor of the opposition.

Distrust Among Voters Cited

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“We were done in,” Ryutaro Hashimoto, the Liberal Democrats’ secretary general, conceded. Hashimoto refused to single out any one issue as the cause of the landslide defeat. But underlying the debacle, he said, was “the voters’ distrust in politics.”

The distrust, pollsters said, stemmed from broken promises to both consumers and farmers as well as the voters’ repulsion to a widespread influence-buying scandal that tainted all of the ruling party’s major factional leaders. That scandal forced the resignation of Takeshita, but his handpicked successor, Uno, become embroiled in a new scandal over money-for-sex charges two days after he took office June 2.

In the 1986 election, the Liberal Democrats promised to keep Japan’s agricultural markets closed to imports and told consumers and shopkeepers that they would not implement any large-scale indirect tax. But the party last year bowed to American demands and agreed to lift quotas on beef and citrus fruit imports by April 1, 1991, and then unilaterally rammed a 3% consumption tax through Parliament last December. It was implemented April 1.

The farm revolt helped the opposition, as it won all five of the rice-rich prefectures (states) in Tohoku (northeast Japan) and all four prefectures on the island of Shikoku, a major mandarin orange-growing region. Three prefectures on the island of Kyushu, where cattle farmers are prominent, went to the Socialists.

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‘Farmers Wouldn’t Listen’

“Although we explained our agricultural policies, the farmers wouldn’t listen to us because of their distrust in politics,” the ruling party’s Hashimoto said.

“Voters realized that if Liberal Democrat politics continued (without protest), their lives would be affected,” said Takako Doi, chairwoman of the Socialist Party, who made her opposition to the consumption tax the centerpiece of her campaign.

Doi said the party would submit a bill to abolish the tax and said her party would fight farm imports, as it promised during the 18-day campaign.

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Liberal Democratic candidates lost their seats in the only two districts in which Uno campaigned, including Shiga, Uno’s home prefecture and a traditional conservative stronghold.

The upset winner in Shiga was one of the Rengo labor federation-backed candidates. Another Rengo winner broke a 33-year Liberal Democrat stranglehold on a seat in Nara.

No Split This Time

Victories by Rengo candidates, who were backed by four opposition parties, in all 10 of the one-seat districts in which they ran marked a major departure from past elections. Previously, Liberal Democrats in such constituencies could count upon the opposition splitting up its vote to ride to victory even with only a plurality of the ballots. Three years ago, the conservatives won 23 of the 26 one-seat districts but this time secured only three of them.

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For the first time, the unionists put up candidates who were not professional union leaders but rather lawyers, professors, journalists and women with no previous experience in politics.

A repetition of that tactic in a lower house election could spell major trouble for the Liberal Democrats.

Like the established opposition parties, however, Rengo has failed to reach agreement on major policies that would be necessary to form an opposition-led coalition should the Liberal Democrats lose their majority in a lower house election.


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