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A new political season begins in Japan when an extraordinary Diet session starts later this month.

Among the legislation to be presented to the session will be bills that would ban influence-peddling by lawmakers, lower the age at which juvenile offenders become subject to criminal punishment (it is currently 16; the legislation will lower it to 14), and give voting rights to permanent foreign residents in Japan. The session will also discuss the pros and cons of overhauling public-works projects and of compiling a fiscal 2000 supplementary budget. In December, the Diet will consider a fiscal 2001 budget.

Also in December, Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori must drastically reshuffle his Cabinet to accommodate the reorganization of the central bureaucracy into a Cabinet office and 12 ministries and agencies in January. Depending on developments, Mori could be replaced along with the rest of the government.

Among the public, there is a strong distrust of politics. Although many politicians agitated for drastic reform during the campaign for the general election in June, Mori’s second coalition government and the opposition forces are now unenthusiastic about political renewal.

To be sure, young lawmakers of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party formed a group to push political reform, as did their counterparts in the top opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan. In both parties, however, the reform movements have lost steam, and strife between young dissidents and the old guard has wound down. The old forces have regained their strength.

In a somewhat surprising development, LDP policy chief Shizuka Kamei, a top lobbyist for business interests, is leading efforts to curb public-works spending and is actively promoting a bill that would ban influence-peddling by lawmakers. The DPJ has long advocated such legislation.

The LDP moves are apparently aimed at softening the impact of scandals that have hit the party, as well as diminishing the damage created by the need to replace the Cabinet ministers involved. Critical appraisal is necessary to determine if the moves are intended to deceive the public.

The DPJ, meanwhile, is busy establishing its new executive lineup. Yukio Hatoyama was recently re-elected party leader unchallenged. Policy chief Naoto Kan is likely to succeed Tsutomu Hata as secretary general.

After the general election, the average age of LDP lawmakers is now 60, while that of DPJ Diet members is 50. It is hardly surprising that Hatoyama, born in 1947, and Kan, born in 1946, have emerged as leaders of what is billed as the “young, refreshing party.” Since it was formed in 1996, the DPJ has always been led by Hatoyama and Kan. It looks as if the party has no other strong leaders, which is an indication of its fragility.

The DPJ was also recently rocked by a major scandal involving lawmaker Joji Yamamoto, who was arrested on suspicion of fraud in connection with the misappropriation of his former secretary’s state-paid salaries. The scandal badly damaged the party’s “clean” image.

It has been five months since Mori launched his tripartite coalition government, and two months since he reshuffled his Cabinet. The first Mori Cabinet was made up of the LDP, the Liberal Party and New Komeito; the second Cabinet consisted of the LDP, New Komeito and the New Conservative Party. The opposition forces are made up of the DPJ, the Japan Socialist Party, the Social Democratic Party and the Liberal Party.

The seven political parties will be jockeying for position in the remaining months of 2000, before gearing up for an Upper House election in the early summer of 2001. There is widespread speculation that a Lower House election will be held on the same day as the Upper House election.

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