The Socialist Party turned back, for the moment, a threat to Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa’s eight-party coalition Monday by electing a new chairman who pledged to continue supporting both the coalition and its election reform plan.
Tomiichi Murayama, 69, chairman of the party’s lower house Steering Committee, got 65,446 votes among the party’s nationwide members to defeat Masatoshi Ito, 46, a left-wing Buddhist priest who is a member of the upper house.
But Ito’s 18,075 votes, slightly more than a fifth of the total, brought to the surface a hard-core leftist group within the party. Ito campaigned openly against the coalition’s plan to replace multi-seat districts in Parliament’s lower house with a combination of proportional representation and single-member districts.
Hosokawa, whose coalition holds only a five-seat majority, has pledged to assume “political responsibility” if he fails to pass the election reform by year’s end.
Murayama acknowledged that his Socialist Party had fallen into “confusion” over the electoral reform plan and declared that his first task will be to restore unity.
The balloting was held to replace Sadao Yamahana, who resigned as party chairman to accept responsibility for the Socialists’ having lost nearly half their seats in a lower house election in July.