8 Opposition Parties Join to Take On Japan Coalition : Politics: New group, Reform, has 187 members--just 14 fewer than the leading Liberal Democratic Party.


In a step aimed at establishing two-party politics in Japan, eight opposition parties Wednesday registered in Parliament as a unified negotiating group to deal with Socialist Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama's tripartite coalition.

The new group, named Reform, contains 187 members of the powerful lower house of Parliament--14 fewer than the number in the Liberal Democratic Party that is now the major prop of the Murayama coalition.

The move toward amalgamation by followers of former Prime Ministers Toshiki Kaifu, Morihiro Hosokawa and Tsutomu Hata and five other parties binds the group to acting as a single bloc in conducting deliberations and voting in Parliament.

Dubbed the "new-new party" because six of its eight groups were formed in the last two years, Reform declared that it will establish a full-fledged party by the end of the year.

Yuriko Koike, deputy of Hosokawa's Japan New Party, predicted that at least two or three more elections will be necessary to put into shape a two-party system. And even then, it may not happen, she said.

"I have a feeling that a new-new-new party will emerge as a third force," she said.

Shortly after she spoke, four Hosokawa followers, plus a member of Murayama's Socialist Party, announced that they will form their own parliamentary negotiating body.

"Moves toward forming the new party are based on old logic that politics means power, and power comes from numbers . . . not democratic and grass-roots principles," the group, led by Banri Kaieda, a freshman legislator, said in a statement.

In still another move, a group of 50 conservative-leaning Socialists, while pledging to remain in Murayama's coalition, established a "study group" dedicated to "social liberalism" that would offer a "third path" alternative to Reform and the Liberal Democrats.

Unable to name a leader who would become candidate for prime minister, Reform has also failed so far to come up with clear-cut policies that would distinguish it from the Liberal Democrats.

The former perennial rulers of Japan remain the "party to beat," especially now that political reforms enacted this year will transform the next lower-house election into battles for single seats in each constituency.

Until now, voters in each district elected an average of four representatives--a system that promoted proliferation of political parties.

Reform pledged to rid Japan of its "one-nation pacifism"--the longstanding post-World War II thinking that Japan need concern itself only with its own peace--and make positive contributions to the world, carry out administrative reform and ease government regulations. The platform differs in nuance from the Murayama coalition only in the degree to which Japan would dispatch troops overseas to participate in U.N. peace-keeping missions.

Ichiro Ozawa, the instigator of a rebellion that toppled the Liberal Democrats in 1993 who served as chief strategist for former Prime Ministers Hosokawa and Hata, was named to Reform's No. 2 post.

Ozawa--one of Japan's most assertive and therefore controversial leaders--will have the final say in nominating candidates for the next lower-house election expected late next year or in 1996.

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