Communist Draw Rising For Japanese

TOKYO -- Niichi Kitada is a respectable, affluent 71-year-old biology professor utterly uninterested in revolution and happiest indulging his passions of horses and tea ceremony. So what is he doing voting for the Japan Communist Party these days?

He used to support the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, or LDP, but got disgusted with its endless links to corruption. Then he switched to the Socialists until they abruptly upended their principles in 1993 to join the LDP as part of the ruling elite.

"The main reason I vote for the Communists is because they don't change their policies and they listen to ordinary citizens' opinions," Kitada said.

"I don't want the Communists to become the ruling party because they haven't been good for the rest of the world -- look at the Soviet Union, China and North Korea," he said. "But they are the only ones we can choose out of the existing political parties since they don't look for money or [support] vested interests."

In one of Japan's more intriguing political trends, sentiments such as Kitada's are on the increase as the long-marginalized Communist Party broadens its appeal to capture a growing number of unaffiliated, disenchanted voters.

Political analyst Minoru Morita said the party appears to be attracting as many as half of those who abandoned the Socialists in disgust at their policy flip-flops, along with citizen activists and people such as Kitada.

The trend was dramatically illustrated by the victory this month of Communist Yutaka Yano for Komae city mayor in the Tokyo metropolitan district, where non-Communist supporters provided an estimated half of his 10,238 votes.

According to polls by the Nihon Keizai Shimbun newspaper, the Communists' support rating has more than doubled to 5.5 percent in June from less than 2 percent in 1994, a conspicuous development amid declining support for most other parties.

Even rivals admit the Communists seem to be the cleanest party in Japan, the only one to refuse corporate donations. And many members come across articulate, direct -- and media savvy.

Even as the party decries "American imperialism and Japanese monopolistic capitalists," for instance, Communist party chairman Tetsuzo Fuwa takes pains to praise U.S. progressive policies in antitrust law, labor rights and election reform.