An embarrassing loss in a parliamentary election has increased the possibility that Kiichi Miyazawa could become the third Japanese prime minister since 1989 to step down amid scandal.
The by-election that ended Sunday for an Upper House seat representing Nara in western Japan was considered the first litmus test of Miyazawa's 3-month-old administration.
His party, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, did not pass with flying colors. Its candidate, Nobuharu Enoki, got 178,002 votes, compared with 244,930 for the winner, Yukihisa Yoshida.
Yoshida's anti-corruption platform was backed by the Rengo labor federation and the Socialist and Democratic Socialist parties.
"The administration of Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa appears doomed unless it takes a resolute step to bring to light the entire picture" of the current scandals, the Japan Times said in an editorial Monday.
Miyazawa called the results "truly regrettable."
"I humbly accept the results of this election and . . . will continue my efforts to win back confidence in politics," he said.
The prime minister already was in trouble before the election.
Budget deliberations in Parliament have been stalled since Wednesday by an opposition party boycott. The opposition is demanding that 18 top politicians testify about bribery allegations involving one of Miyazawa's close associates.
Opposition lawmakers also want new testimony on a corporate bribery scandal that forced Miyazawa to resign as finance minister in 1988.
A potentially larger scandal involving a mob-tainted delivery company that allegedly paid lavish sums to senior politicians also is under investigation.
Miyazawa, 72, had been expected to be a sturdier leader than his predecessor, Toshiki Kaifu, who lacked Miyazawa's experience and influence and was voted out by his party. But the new administration has lurched between the scandals and uproars in the United States over criticisms of American workers.
The government faces two more by-elections this spring and a general Upper House election in July. Miyazawa's job could be jeopardized if he fails to muster the will to reform the political system or fails to get the budget debate going again.
The party's fate is rosier, however. Scandal after scandal, the Liberal Democrats have controlled Parliament's law-making Lower House for 37 years.