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Japan Must Elect Its Premier
It's the best way to revitalize the leadership

New Threats for Old

Today's dangers — drugs, crime, terror — demand cooperation

The ignominious defeat of Kato Koichi's rebellion last week showed once again that the Liberal Democrat Party cannot reform Japan's politics. But Prime Minister Mori Yoshiro's hollow victory in the no-confidence vote was Pyrrhic. His popularity continues to drop, and he'll be given the heave-ho before long. Unfortunately, in all likelihood any successor will be chosen by the same four or five party elders who picked Mori in the first place, simply setting the stage for more frustration and disillusionment.

There is a way out of this. Japan could change its Constitution to permit the direct election of the prime minister. Since 1996 Israelis have been choosing their PM this way. They vote twice in a general election — once for head of government (who must get a clear majority or face a run-off) and then for the parliament. The new premier must still form a government that commands a majority in the legislature or call new polls.

As seen recently, the Israeli system can still result in deadlock if the body politic is highly fragmented. But in Japan, direct election of the premier would break the monopoly on power exercised by a small LDP cabal. This would let fresh leaders emerge, possibly from the new breed of popular, independent prefectural governors, who are directly elected. Japanese complain that their system prevents politicians with vision from becoming leaders. Electing the PM would help change that, and give politicians the chance to make Japan a better place.

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November 30, 2000

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Looking Back:
Murder in the streets

The Bottom Line: Asiaweek's ranking of world economies

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