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Japan's Ruling LDP Pushes Younger, Reform Image

Cabinet shake-up follows bribery scandal that cut into party support

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THE battered state of Japanese politics was captured simply in a newspaper ad last month. It read: "Wanted: New Politicians."

The ad was placed by the reformist Japan New Party, whose start-up earlier this year has led it to advertise for candidates. But the party wants only people who will "demonstrate their anger at current politics" and have "no connection with crime organizations."

Such sentiments, reflected widely in opinion polls, forced the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to do something unusual last week. The LDP's leaders decided to put younger, cleaner, more reformist politicians in a new Cabinet lineup. The youngest, Hajime Funada, is 39 years old and was chosen as head of economic planning. One of the more reformist, Yohei Kono, was made chief Cabinet secretary; he once split with the LDP in the 1970s after the Lockheed bribery scandal.

The new Cabinet is designed to help the party recover from its near-record unpopularity, even though it is unlikely to be dislodged after holding power for 37 years. The unusual step of naming lesser but more publicly acceptable politicians to run the government was made easier because the largest faction in the party, which had dominated decisionmaking in Japan for two decades, split up last month.

The faction was divided after it lost its leader, political kingpin Shin Kanemaru, in August and could not agree on a successor. Mr. Kanemaru was forced to quit after admitting that his secretary took $4 million from the Tokyo Sagawa Kyubin trucking firm.

"I received the money at a basement garage," admitted the secretary, Masahisa Haibara, in testimony before parliament last week. The money, so bulky that three shopping bags were required to carry it, was allegedly distributed to 60 faction members for use in the February 1990 general election.

The Sagawa scandal has also badly tainted Kanemaru's fellow faction leader, former Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita, who is also under pressure to resign from politics. The LDP's seven factions exist primarily as conduits for distributing hefty "contributions" from business.

The LDP's urgency to present a reformist image was also driven by the possibility that prosecutors will nail other LDP politicians who took the Sagawa money.

"The people are angry," the new justice minister, Masaharu Gotoda, said in a speech. "It's important to take definitive action. But it will not be easy."


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