Hashimoto Dissolves Parliament

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TOKYO: Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto officially dissolved Parliament Friday and set elections for October 20. Japan's political parties had long expected the move and have been preparing for the beginning of a new political campaign. The current Parliament's four-year term doesn't expire until July 1997, but Irene Kunii reports from TIME's Tokyo bureau that Hashimoto's Liberal Democratic Party felt now represented its best chance to pick up seats in the 500-seat lower house. The dominant LDP holds 206 seats in the lower house and shares power with two other parties including, curiously enough, the socialists. Kunii says the LDP, which lost its monopolistic grip on power in the last election more than 3 years ago, would like to recapture a majority or negotiate a new coalition. "There is a new party forming called the Liberal Party of Japan and perhaps they would be a new coalition partner. Some of the members are former LDP members," says Kunii. Less likely but possible is an alliance with the Shin Shinto party, which is the current opposition party but is closer politically to the LDP than its coalition partners. Hashimoto's popularity is high after his capable handling of discontent in Okinawa over the presence of U.S. troops and signs that Japan's economy may finally be on the rebound. But Kunii says there's always a danger for Hashimoto. "Even if the LDP is the leading coalition partner, they'll need to negotiate to create a government. It's not at all a given that he'll continue as prime minister." -->