Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi announced the formation of a coalition government today that will give him an extraordinary majority in the parliament and a seemingly firm grip on power.
But in the convolutions of Japanese politics, the new three-party coalition may actually be weaker--too unwieldy and filled with wary rivals to get much done, according to analysts here.
"This cabinet is going to face constant internal conflicts," said Minoru Morita, a political analyst. "It may be serious enough to endanger the Obuchi government itself."
The negotiated cabinet shuffle joins three competing political parties and gives Obuchi commanding control of both houses of parliament for the first time.
Obuchi loyalists and former opponents are scattered throughout the cabinet. He announced goals for the coalition that include greater economic stimulus, lifting the ban on Japanese participation in U.N. peacekeeping forces, funneling taxes to fund welfare and a change in the denomination of the yen.
He kept his finance minister, Kiichi Miyazawa, and appointed an old hand, Yohei Kono, to head the foreign ministry, indicating little change in major economic or foreign policies.
Indeed, Obuchi indicated that he was seeking to avoid changes of direction. "Rather than emphasize freshness, we should emphasize stability and capability," he said at a news conference tonight.
The United States, which wants Japan to take stronger measures to end its recession, will be pleased with the new coalition's intention to hold a special session of parliament to pass measures to stimulate the economy.
But even these measures are expected to be a continuation of Japan's gradual approach. "We cannot change the makeup of our economic team," Obuchi said tonight.
The United States also would welcome Japan's participation in U.N. peacekeeping forces, although this, too, is a modest step and still far from gaining approval. No significant foreign policy changes were proposed, and even the limited new domestic goals the coalition announced are not likely to happen, critics predicted.
The only certain change, they say, is a 20-seat reduction in the 500-member lower house, an issue vigorously negotiated by the coalition members.
"If you look at their coalition agreement article by article, you cannot find one article on which the three parties are really decided," said Takayoshi Miyagawa, president of the private Center for Political and Public Relations.
Obuchi created eight new deputy ministers in an effort to transfer more authority from bureaucrats to elected officials, and also to create enough positions for the members of his expanded coalition.
But that could create a top-heavy and awkward government, some fear. Obuchi's Liberal Democratic Party members have long sparred over issues of national security and foreign policy with the Liberal Party until they joined in an uneasy alliance in January. Now they have taken on a partnership with the New Komeito, a Buddhist-backed party that some traditional politicians and many in the Japanese public view with suspicion.
No one counts out Obuchi. When he was elected in July 1998, he was expected to be a weak and short-lived prime minister. Instead he has expertly solidified his position and enjoyed a dramatic rise in popularity. His new coalition will command 357 of 500 seats on the powerful lower House of Representatives, and 141 of 252 seats in the upper House of Councillors, giving him room for political maneuvering.
But looming ahead is the next general election. It is now set for October 2000, but each of the coalition members will be calculating whether to try to force an earlier election.
"Every matter will be an election matter from now on," said Masayuki Fukuoka, professor of law at Hakuo University in Tokyo.