Party official quits after Tokyo election setback

April 09, 1991|By John E. Woodruff | John E. Woodruff,Tokyo Bureau of The Sun

TOKYO -- The secretary-general of Japanese Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu's governing party resigned yesterday after his candidate for governor of Tokyo took a whipping from an 80-year-old incumbent.

Resisting two days of intense pressure to stay on from Mr. Kaifu and the chief power brokers of his own faction within the Liberal Democratic Party, Ichiro Ozawa insisted on taking responsibility for a backfired attempt to dump Gov. Shunichi Suzuki.

To cheers of "Banzai!" -- 10,000 years, a traditional Asian wish of long life -- Governor Suzuki savored his lopsided fourth-term win yesterday morning at a victory ceremony at the recently dedicated, twin-towered City Hall.

The Liberal Democratic Party's resigned secretary-general was immediately replaced as the party's operating head by Keizo Obuchi, a former chief Cabinet secretary who comes from the same faction but whose ability to keep Mr. Kaifu's Cabinet functioning is not expected to equal Mr. Ozawa's. Most commentators have predicted that the change in the No. 2 job could gravely weaken Mr. Kaifu's shaky grip on the prime ministership.

But the effect on Mr. Kaifu after Sunday's local elections appeared to be mixed, for the governing LDP won stunning victories elsewhere, gaining hundreds of seats in prefectural and municipal legislative races.

For the longer term, the election's portent seemed darkest for the Social Democrats, the leading opposition party, which formerly was known as the Japan Socialist Party. The Social Democrats lost hundreds of local legislative seats to Liberal Democratic challengers and suffered a humiliation even worse than the governing party's in the Tokyo governorship.

The Social Democrats' debacle produced calls within the party for the resignation of Takako Doi, who had been Japan's political woman of the day only two years ago when her Socialists led an opposition coalition to unprecedented control of the upper house of the Diet, Japan's parliament.

The Socialists appeared to suffer heavily from Miss Doi's highly vocal opposition to Mr. Kaifu's $9 billion contribution to the gulf war, and more broadly from a deepening failure to find political positions that could attract Japan's generally middle-of-the-road voters.

Mr. Ozawa's presence at the LDP's helm has been critical in helping to transform Mr. Kaifu's policy decisions into political reality.

Mr. Kaifu, who was lifted to the prime ministership two years ago from obscurity in the middle ranks of the smallest faction in order to clean up a party image tainted by a year of scandals, is widely believed to lack the political muscle either to hang onto power on his own or to make his policy decisions stick.

Mr. Ozawa is a member of the party's biggest faction.

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