TOKYO -- Two centrist opposition leaders who hold the votes to determine who will run Japan's next government informed the country's perennial leaders, the Liberal Democrats, today that they will side with five opposition parties to form an opposition-led coalition.
Barring any unpredictable 11th-hour snags, the development appeared to ensure the end of the Liberal Democrats' 38-year rule.
Not since 1948 has Japan had a coalition government, and not since 1955, when it was formed, has any party except the Liberal Democrats ruled the country.
The development came as three more lower house Liberal Democrat members bolted the party and two candidates filed to run in a election to replace Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa as party president. They were former Foreign Minister Michio Watanabe, who turns 70 today, and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, 56.
Morihiro Hosokawa, leader of the grass-roots Japan New Party, and Masayoshi Takemura, who bolted the Liberal Democrats in June to form his New Party Harbinger, informed Hiroshi Mitsuzuka, chairman of the former ruling party's Policy Board, that they found a last-minute Liberal Democrat pledge to carry out political reform insufficient.
The Liberal Democrat reform plan, which was approved yesterday, failed to spell out how seats in the lower house would be allocated between single-seat districts and proportional representation voting and carried no pledge of a deadline for implementation.
Mr. Hosokawa said his party and Mr. Takemura's Harbinger group will have no more independent contacts with the Liberal Democrats. "From now on, all contacts will be carried out between the seven parties [of the opposition] and the Liberal Democrats," he said.
Leaders of the seven parties were to meet within a day or two to finalize a joint policy for a coalition and choose a leader to run for prime minister.
The two centrist leaders control 49 seats, enough to bolster the five-party forces to about 20 more than the Liberal Democrats.
Mutsuki Kato, leader of a "mini-faction," announced he and two of his lower-house followers submitted resignations from the party because it refused to support its strongest advocate of reform, former Premier Toshiki Kaifu, to lead the party again.
Awash in scandals, most Liberal Democrats appeared to back Masaharu Gotoda, 78, deputy prime minister and justice minister. Mr. Gotoda, however, insisted that a younger leader must be chosen to carry out reform. Only when his refusal became final did Mr. Kono enter the Liberal Democrats' race.