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Japanese Opposition Coalition Seems Doomed by Distrust

January 25, 1990

TOKYO (AP) _ Japan’s opposition parties remain divided by distrust and policy disagreements as campaigning starts for next month’s election.

Despite a long-awaited opportunity presented by the scandals and the slumping popularity of the Liberal Democratic government, opposition politicians concede they are far from setting up a coalition.

″At this point, we have to admit it is difficult for us to come to any sort of agreement on coalition terms before the general election,″ said Tsuruo Yamaguchi, secretary-general of the Japan Socialist Party, the largest opposition group.

″Each party is busy worrying about its own business ahead of the (Feb. 18) election,″ Yamaguchi said in an interview.

Socialist chairwoman Takako Doi and the heads of three centrist parties met Wednesday after the lower house of Parliament was dissolved for the crucial election. They declared they were united on three points: To oust the Liberal Democrats, scrap an unpopular 3 percent sales tax and continue coalition talks.

It was the first time since December the four key opposition parties had held a joint meeting.

They started talking about coalition terms in April but have been unable to overcome such obstacles as the Socialists’ opposition to Japan’s armed forces and to the treaty under which the United States bases about 50,000 troops in Japan and is obliged to help defend Japan if it is attacked.

The three other parties hold more conservative views.

Akira Yamagishi, chairman of the Japanese Trade Union Federation and a key mediator in the opposition talks, said it was ″quite regrettable″ that the parties are divided when they have the best chance in decades to oust the Liberal Democrats.

″To me, their policy disagreements sound like no more than their excuses for not being able to cooperate,″ Yamagishi said.

The Liberal Democrats have headed Japan’s governments since 1955 and the only time the Socialists have been at the top since World War II was a few months in 1947 and 1948 when they led a coalition.

The opposition has been out of power ″for so long that they have lost realistic aspirations to govern the country,″ Yamagishi said.

For the Socialists to claim the premiership for Ms. Doi, the Liberal Democrats would have to lose at least 39 of their 295 seats in the outgoing house, and the Socialists would have to join other parties and assemble at least 257 seats, a bare majority in the 512-seat house.

While polls show the Liberal Democrats could lose their majority, they seem assured of remaining the largest party, and there is speculation that they - not the Socialists - will entice the centrists into a coalition.

Prospects for a Socialist-led coalition of the center-left are clouded by the Communist Party, which holds 27 seats in the outgoing house. The Marxist- Leninist party is entirely excluded from the coalition blueprint because of its revolutionary stances, but it could emerge with a key block of swing seats.

The Socialists, holding 83 seats, are more moderate than the Communists, but there are radical factions within the Socialist Party which adhere to its traditional stance of making Japan neutral and unarmed, and calling for socialist revolutions.

Leaders of centrist parties - the Democratic Socialist Party (25 lower house seats), the Komeito or Clean Government Party (54 seats) and the United Social Democratic Party (four seats) - say the Socialists must modify radical policy stances to be a coalition partner.

″We are talking about forming a government of the second economic superpower of the world. We’d better be sure who we are dealing with,″ Takashi Yonezawa, secretary-general of the Democratic Socialist Party, which parted from the Socialists in the 1960s over policy disagreements, said in an interview.

The Clean Government Party secretary-general, Yuuichi Ichikawa, said, ″How can we take over the government when the leader of the opposition camp is not ready to do so? We just have to wait for the Socialists to become more realistic.″

Socialist leader Doi has softened the party’s positions, saying it will acknowledge Japan’s armed forces and the security alliance with the United States.

″We have said our party recognizes that Japan is a member of Western allies,″ she said in an interview last week. ″Seeking drastic change is not what we want.″

But Komeito leader Koshiro Ishida and Democratic Socialist leader Eiichi Nagasue demanded the Socialists put their policy modifications into their platform.

Yamaguchi argued it was the centrist parties’ turn to concede. ″I think it is important for each party to have its own unique goals,″ the Socialist secretary-general said. ″As far as policy modifications are concerned, we did all we can do.″