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Japan's good old boys

It's back to business as usual for Japan's long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). It's also back to politics as usual for the business interests whose generosity _ including as much as $1-billion in Sunday's parliamentary election campaign _ has kept the LDP in power for 34 years. Former LDP Prime Ministers Yasuhiro Nakasone, Noboru Takeshita and Sousuke Uno, whose political careers were thought to have been ruined as a result of their involvement in the massive

Recruit Co. stock scandal, all were elected to thenew parliament. Led by Nakasone, they now are claiming vindication and absolution for themselves.

The LDP's smug leaders apparently intend to use Sunday's election results as an excuse to ignore the obvious need for fundamental reform of Japan's political system. If so, they will have made a potentially disastrous miscalculation. Japan's voters, like voters everywhere, tend to be guided by their pocketbooks. Sunday, though, millions of them showed that they are guided by their consciences as well.

If the LDP had been judged solely on the current state of the Japanese economy, the party's victory would have been much more overwhelming than it turned out to be. Instead, the LDP lost 20 seats, barely maintaining its majority in the parliament's lower house. The Japan Socialist Party increased its representation from 83 seats to 136 but suffered from the poor showing of its potential coalition partners.

The Socialists' strong gains reflected widespread voter support for the reform program led by Socialist leader Takako Doi. However, the relatively inexperienced Socialists were unable to construct a broader platform to attract those voters whose disgust with the LDP's sex and money scandals was counterbalanced by support for the LDP's generally successful stewardship of the Japanese economy.

Eventually, though, a majority of voters will begin to feel the social and economic costs of Japan's political corruption. Rampant influence-peddling diverts resources from more productive uses and distorts the electoral system. Japan's society ultimately must absorb the costs of that greed, just as American taxpayers are now beginning to pay for the political and financial scandals of the 1980s.

The unreconstructed sexism at the heart of the LDP machine also is ready to collapse. Doi, the most influential woman in Japanese politics, has inspired millions of other Japanese women who traditionally have been denied access to real power in Japanese business and government solely on account of their gender. Based on their reaction to Sunday's vote, the good old boys of the LDP still do not understand the political implications of that generational revolution. The trends suggest that the next parliamentary elections may finally get the LDP's attention.