Shinshinto ranks to discuss LDP union

The national convention today of Shinshinto, the largest opposition party, may seal the fate of Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto’s priority set of reforms since Shinshinto leader Ichiro Ozawa has dropped his hostility toward the Hashimoto administration.

Hashimoto has restated his determination to follow through on drastic reforms of the bureaucracy, fiscal structure, the monetary system, economic structure, social security and education to rebuild the nation for the 21st century. Ozawa earlier this month expressed a willingness to work together with Hashimoto to promote the reforms, without consulting with his party members.

The national convention is expected to provide Shinshinto members with their first opportunity to officially voice their opinions on a possible tieup with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which Hashimoto heads. At present, Shinshinto, which formerly consisted of eight defunct political parties and one parliamentary group, is divided into two forces. One supports a conservative union with the LDP, the other favors forming ties with other parties.

The latter group was encouraged by the Akita gubernatorial election April 19, in which an independent candidate backed by Shinshinto and other parties defeated another backed by the LDP. However, some analysts predict that dark clouds will hang over Hashimoto’s reform pledges if the LDP, which has 244 seats in the 500-seat Lower House, and Shinshinto, which has 141, form a huge conservative union. They expect sweeping reforms would meet fierce opposition from vested interests.

For example, agricultural cooperatives are already fighting off farm-sector reforms in cooperation with LDP and Shinshinto legislators from rural districts. It seems most lawmakers still believe in pork barrel politics, which was standard practice when the LDP monopolized power for 38 years until 1993.

“The possible huge coalition would include many ‘zokugiin’ (tribe legislators) who tend to represent vested interests rather than electorates,” said Yasunori Sone, a professor of political science at Keio University. Such lawmakers are found not only in the LDP, which cultivated cozy ties with the bureaucracy and businesses during the party’s years of dominance, but also in Shinshinto, a dozen members of which, including Ozawa, previously belonged to the largest faction of the LDP in the 1980s.

“If Hashimoto really wants to streamline the bloated fiscal and bureaucratic systems, reorganize an overregulated economy and save the nation’s social security system from going bankrupt, he should strictly select those who can work with him for those purposes,” Sone said.

“But making such a selection, which could disrupt both the LDP and Shinshinto, is quite unlikely to happen, at least not in the foreseeable future,” he added.