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Japan's prime minister tries to outflank new party

hashimoto September 24, 1996
Web posted at: 9:30 p.m. EDT (0130 GMT)

TOKYO (CNN) -- Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto is working to consolidate support after calling elections for lower house seats nine months early.

One big impetus is the fledgling Democratic Party of Japan, now just about a week old. Fear that the liberal-leaning party will gain strong public support helped force the hand of Hashimoto and his unstable three-party coalition.

The new party was formed by Yukio Hatoyama, a Stanford- educated physicist now trying to build membership and field candidates in time for the October 20 election.

"By calling for general elections so quickly, I think Hashimoto is taking the best strategy -- not to give time to Hatoyama to consolidate his power," said political analyst Kuniko Inoguchi.

"I think Mr. Hashimoto may barely remain prime minister in at least the next administration."


On Tuesday, Hashimoto met privately with President Clinton at the United Nations. Analysts said the high-profile association would help promote Hashimoto's job security.

Hashimoto, in an address to the U.N. General Assembly, also reiterated Japan's desire to join the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.


"Japan, with the endorsement of many countries, is prepared to discharge its responsibilities as a permanent member of the Security Council in accordance with its basic philosophy of non-resort to the use of force, prohibited by its constitution," he said.

Hashimoto's battle for power at home doesn't end after the general elections. In fact, that's when the real work begins.

No one party is expected to win a majority in the 500-seat lower house. Since Parliament elects the prime minister, Hashimoto faces the tough task of rebuilding a secure coalition if he is to hang onto his job.

Correspondent May Lee and Reuters contributed to this report.


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