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News Briefs, part 1

Japan Votes Three Political Reform Bills into Law

Los Angeles Times

Concluding a six-year struggle under seven prime ministers, Japan's Parliament on Monday voted into law the final pieces of political reforms designed to produce a two-party system, campaigns fought on policy issues rather than pork-barrel handouts and periodic changes of government.

Socialist Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, however, said the vote marked "just the start of political reform."

Three bills drawing boundaries for 300 single-seat lower house districts, stiffening penalties for vote buying and fixing qualifications of parties eligible to share $309 million in government campaign subsidies passed the upper house in a nearly unanimous vote.

The subsidies, equal to $2.50 for each voter, will be given to parties for the first time in proportion to their holdings in Parliament, in the hope of reducing corruption stemming from reliance upon donations from special interest groups.

Along with reforms passed last March under former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa, the new laws will go into effect Dec. 25, ending a 70-year old system of multi-seat districts with an average of four representatives, some of whom polled fewer than 20 percent of the total votes. Two hundred other seats will be filled through a proportional representation system, in which voters cast a second ballot for parties of their choice.

Spurred by a 1988-89 stocks-for-favors scandal that tainted all of the leaders of the then-ruling Liberal Democratic Party, efforts to carry out reform were thwarted repeatedly until an inter-party rebellion deprived Japan's perennial rulers of their 38-year grasp on power and brought a reform coalition under Hosokawa to power in August 1993.

Even then, rebels within the ranks of Hosokawa's supporters once again defeated reforms in an upper house vote last January. A last-minute compromise, however, won Liberal Democrat support and brought about enactment in March. Bills passed Monday filled in the details of those laws.

Former Prime Minister Tsutomu Hata called for elections early next year, but Murayama said he was not thinking of dissolving the lower house, the term of which runs through July 1997.