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Japan Prime Minister Comes Under Fire from Businessmen

By Sam Jameson
Los Angeles Times

As businessmen here fired a barrage of criticism at the government, Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama and his coalition partners failed Monday to agree on whether they would form a new Cabinet to try to energize an administration supported by only 20 percent of all Japanese voters.

Whether to name new ministers will be decided after the present Cabinet on Aug. 4 fixes a ceiling for requests for next year's budget, Chief Cabinet Secretary Kozo Igarashi said.

The waffling came after Sunday's election for the upper house of Parliament, the first national ballot since the Cabinet headed by Murayama, a Socialist, came into power in June, 1994.

Analysts traced the indecision to unrest in the Liberal Democratic Party, the largest coalition member, against its leader, Foreign Minister Yohei Kono. Any shuffling of Cabinet posts, they said, was likely to trigger demands for a change in party officials only a month before Kono himself must face an election for party president when his two-year term expires.

Although the three coalition parties won a majority of the seats at stake, only 20.1 percent of all voters, including those who boycotted the election, voted for their candidates in the worst turnout in history. Of voters who did go to the polls, only 48 percent supported the coalition parties. Worst of all was the Socialists' showing - support from 17 percent of voters who cast ballots and only 7 percent of all voters. Murayama's party won only 13 percent of the seats at stake.

Murayama acknowledged that the election showed "distrust in politics has heightened." Finance Minister Masayoshi Takemura, head of the New Party Harbinger, the third member of the coalition, said the Cabinet "must adopt a stronger posture in favor of reform" of both the economy and the government administration.

Jiro Ushio, chairman of the business group called Japan Association of Corporate Executives, called for Murayama's replacement and "an immediate general election."

No general election has been held since July 1993, when the Liberal Democrats' 38-year unilateral grasp on power ended. Murayama reiterated Monday that he was not thinking of calling one in the near future.

Minoru Morita, one of Japan's leading political commentators, said on TV Asahi's evening news show that Murayama's power base had been so badly eroded that he will be sorely tested, forced to "serve as prime minister from day to day."

A poll for NHK television reported that 49 percent of voters did not support Murayama's decision to stay in office; only 26 percent supported it, the semi-governmental network reported.