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IN SEARCH OF JAPANESE STABILITY

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Lately, Japan seems destined to challenge Italy for the dubious distinction of having the world's most unstable parliamentary government. Newly elected Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, who took office Wednesday, heads the third Japanese coalition government in two months.

And a fourth government probably isn't far behind. Murayama said before the vote that he likely will dissolve the Diet and call for general elections.That would be the best course of action. It also would be a healthy realization that the new government can't last long.

Murayama, a Socialist, is not what Japan, or the world, needs right now. Neither does he have the support of most Japanese. His rise to power came after a strange and illogical union between the Socialists and the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, which once led Japan for nearly 40 years.

The coalition was the only way to solve Japan's political impasse. None of the country's several parties enjoys a majority in the lower house of Parliament, which chooses the prime minister.

The Socialists, with the second-highest representation, have become a pesky wild card. The former government collapsed because the Socialists withdrew. The Liberal Democrats, with the largest representation, agreed to support Murayama as a way to forge an alliance that would return them to power.

But the new coalition hasn't solved the nation's political crisis. Mura-yama won't likely hold together a union with the pro-business, pro-military conservatives. Socialists and Liberal Democrats stand at opposite ends on almost every issue in Japan.

Nor has it calmed fears abroad. The rise of a Socialist leader sends troubling signals about Japan's foreign- policy commitments. The Socialists have close ties with North Korea's hard-line communist leaders. They have opposed Japanese involvement in U.N. peacekeeping efforts.

Unfortunately for Americans, the Japanese political crisis comes at a time when the dollar is at its lowest point against the yen since the 1940s. That has raised worries in the United States that either interest rates will rise or inflation will return.

It also comes just two weeks before a summit meeting with President Clinton to discuss important trade issues and before a meeting of the world's economic powers in Naples, Italy.

And it won't make Japan's struggle to overcome a crippling recession any easier.

Clearly, a new, stable and decisive Japanese government would be in the best interests of the United States and Japan. The only way to establish one is through a new general election.

The world can only hope Murayama will follow through on his plans to call one.