Monday, October 21, 1996

Japanese voters
choose stability over change

THREE years ago, responding to a series of scandals in the upper reaches of politics, Japanese voters ousted the Liberal Democratic Party after a 38-year-reign in which Japan had achieved previously unimaginable prosperity. Yesterday the voters gave the LDP a fresh mandate, electing 239 members to the 500-seat House of Representatives - just short of an absolute majority. The party must now seek partners for another government, but one in which its domination will be unquestioned.

There was no strong desire to see the LDP returned to power. Rather, the main sentiment appeared to be apathy. Voter turnout was the lowest since World War II. Evidently the electorate has become disillusioned with the reformers.

After the 1993 elections swept the LDP from power, a series of reformist coalitions attempted to govern, but they were inexperienced and ineffective. Eventually the LDP returned to office in an awkward coalition with the Socialists and a splinter party. Now the election results have solidified the LDP's position under the leadership of Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, who is expected to retain his post.

The elections came as Japan is struggling to emerge from a severe recession, which has had repercussions in Hawaii. Its banking system is in a crisis that is believed to be bigger than the savings and loan debacle in this country. Perhaps the uncertainty over the economy prompted the voters to choose the party they knew best.

Yet Japan badly needs to reform its political and economic systems to meet new challenges. Hashimoto has pledged to cut the number of government ministries by half in order to counter an opposition proposal, but it is doubtful that he will succeed. The creaky, faction-ridden LDP is an unlikely vehicle for reform. The election results seem to postpone the day when Japan will confront the need for change.

Breast reconstruction

IN their relentless efforts to cut costs, national insurers are increasingly denying reimbursements to mastectomy patients who want or need breast reconstructive surgery. This disturbing trend is one reason why more women administrators need to be at the helms of large companies in health care and insurance. Perhaps then there would be more awareness and sympathy that reconstructive surgery - after facing the life-or-death threat of breast cancer - is not as much for vanity's sake as it is for physical and psychological recovery.

Canada's health

CANADA'S public health-care system is often cited as a model by American advocates of a comprehensive government program. But the Canadian system is suffering as provincial governments slash funding.

The defeat of the highly complicated health-care program proposed by President Clinton may have saved the country from such a disaster. The passage this year of a much more modest program, providing employees with the right to take their health insurance with them when they change jobs, was a cautious step in the right direction. More must be done to meet the health-care needs of Americans, but care must be taken to avoid commiting the country to an unworkable, unaffordable system.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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