TOKYO -- Japan's 4-year-old governing coalition fractured yesterday, as the Social Democratic Party formally announced that it would quit and strike out on its own.
It is a measure of how far the Social Democrats have fallen in popularity that their departure will scarcely matter. The Liberal Democratic Party, which has dominated Japanese politics since the 1950s, will continue to govern Japan, with no need for new elections or a Cabinet reshuffle.
The collapse of the coalition had been expected and was not expected to cause any particular instability. The Liberal Democrats have a slight majority in the House of Representatives, the more important chamber of the Japanese Parliament, and therefore believe they do not need the coalition to maintain power.
In addition, the Social Democratic leader, Takako Doi, said that her party would support the government of Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto in a no-confidence motion that the opposition parties are planning.
The coalition, formed in June 1994, had always been an improbable blend, a triumph of ambition over principle. It united the Liberal Democrats, who despite their name are more like what in the United States would be called conservative Republicans, with the Social Democrats, who were then known as the Socialist Party.
The ascension of Tomiichi Murayama as head of a government coalition in 1994 seemed an extraordinary triumph for the political left. But the experience with Murayama profoundly soured the Japanese electorate on his party. The problem was not that Murayama was perceived as a hard-line leftist, but that voters saw him as little more than an opportunist.
Pub Date: 5/31/98