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Second in a series

Staff writer

A focal point of the July 12 Upper House election is whether the ruling Liberal Democratic Party can recover a majority in the 252-member chamber by securing at least 69 seats.

Failing that, the LDP could still attain something of a victory by grabbing 64 seats — a bare majority of the 126 being contested.

Under one of these scenarios, LDP leader and Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto would be expected to serve out his tenure until September 1999. Unless, that is, the economic crises worsen and topple his government, according to party sources.

If Hashimoto remains in power, an expected Cabinet reshuffle and appointment of new LDP executives would draw considerable attention. Because he plans to visit France and the United States soon after the election, these changes could occur either before an extraordinary Diet session starts in late July or after the session ends, probably in late September.

Because the extra session will deal mainly with bills to facilitate the disposal of bad loans at financial institutions, some LDP executives say it would be better if existing Cabinet members continue addressing the problem. The LDP executives’ terms also end in September.

If the party fails to hold onto its 61 seats that are up for grabs in the poll — including one held by the Upper House president — Hashimoto would probably be forced to step down and the political landscape would erupt into turmoil as potential successors jostle for position.

The turmoil would rock the LDP and the opposition parties, which would surely increase pressure on the government to hand over power. Even if the LDP obtains a majority, current LDP executives are contemplating cooperating with other parties to demonstrate that the LDP is listening to their ideas and opinions.

Hiromu Nonaka, LDP acting secretary general, has indicated he is worried by a possible rise in public criticism over the LDP’s single-party rule.

Nonaka said at a June 9 party executive meeting that the rise in public support ratings for the Social Democratic Party may reflect concerns that the LDP would become arrogant if it regains a majority in the chamber, on top of its current majority in the Lower House.

The SDP and New Party Sakigake terminated their four-year alliance with the LDP at the beginning of this month, and the SDP has seen a gradual rise in its support ratings.

LDP Secretary General Koichi Kato said that after the election, the LDP will first ask the SDP and Sakigake for cooperation and then make such a request to Komei.

While secretaries general of both the SDP and Sakigake have brushed aside the idea of again joining in an alliance with the LDP after the election, the three parties’ relations have not necessarily deteriorated.

Near the end of the regular Diet session, which ended last Thursday, the SDP and Sakigake did not join the opposition camp in supporting a no-confidence motion against the Hashimoto administration, although the vote was held after they dissolved their alliance.

After the election, the largest opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan, plans to push for a coalition with other opposition parties, based on a key policy consensus. The coalition would lay the ground work to try and snatch power from the LDP in the next Lower House election, which must be held before October 2000.

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