Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa on Tuesday effectively abandoned his firm pledge to pass a political reform bill, plunging Japan's creaking political apparatus into turmoil.
In a decision that prompted a brawl among members of his own Liberal Democratic Party, Miyazawa and other party leaders dropped efforts to write a compromise bill able to pass the Parliament.
Three opposition parties said they will introduce no-confidence resolutions this week, setting up a vote analysts say Miyazawa's party may lose. That would lead to a national election next month, with the dominant Liberal Democrats on the wrong side of public opinion on the question of political corruption.
All of this means Japan's pattern of "one-party democracy" _ in which the Liberal Democratic Party has controlled every government since 1955 _ could be headed for a historic change.
The issue that prompted this latest problem is a familiar one in Japanese government: cleaning up the money-saturated political system that has spawned one scandal after another for decades.
Miyazawa endorsed a package of bills that would change every electoral district in the country. The package would also cost so many lawmakers jobs that it garnered massive opposition in Parliament.
But as public anger grew in recent months, Miyazawa seemed to be moving toward a compromise approved by opposition parties that could pass.
Tuesday, however, the Liberal Democrats abandoned compromise efforts and pushed for a vote only on its own plan. This apparently cannot pass, though, because the opposition has enough votes to block it.