Japanese leader names scandal-tainted 'big boys' to Cabinet

November 06, 1991|By John E. Woodruff | John E. Woodruff,Tokyo Bureau of The Sun

TOKYO -- Japan's new prime minister lost no time yesterday in loading his Cabinet with scandal-tainted but powerful political warhorses his predecessor had disqualified from office.

Including Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa himself, the new Cabinet and the new top ranks of the governing party contain five men stained by the Recruit Cosmos stocks-for-favors scandal of 1988, one convicted of accepting a bribe in the Lockheed scandal of the 1970s and one who resigned from a Cabinet two years ago in a sex scandal.

Immediately under Mr. Miyazawa, as deputy premier and foreign minister, is Michio Watanabe, a leading victim of the Recruit scandal and head of the scandal-racked Liberal Democratic Party faction formerly headed by former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone.

Within hours of taking office yesterday afternoon, Mr. Miyazawa thus made good with a vengeance on campaign promises to the kingmakers of the governing LDP who controlled the voting that made him prime minister last month.

"It's time for the big boys to come back," after two years of "Mr. Clean" politics to burnish the party's image under Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu, he argued.

Mr. Kaifu came to office in 1989 as a "clean shirt," after the Recruit scandal brought down the government of Noboru Takeshita, and a successor Cabinet headed by Sousuke Uno collapsed within eight weeks when a former geisha said Mr. Uno had paid her for sex.

"If you're a Japanese who cares about political ethics, this is a spit-in-your-eye Cabinet," a foreign diplomat said last night. "But if you care about more effective leadership than you've had for two years under Kaifu, wheeling and dealing like we've seen for the past two weeks is how you get it."

Mr. Miyazawa and Mr. Watanabe both are known for direct, if sometimes impolitic, statements of their opinions. Mr. Miyazawa also is known for his mental depth and his grasp of complex international and economic issues.

Mr. Watanabe, who was marked as a strong future candidate for prime minister when he finished an impressive second in the contest against Mr. Miyazawa for the party presidency last month, is a tough-talking populist. He is regarded as deficient in international knowledge and now gets a chance to use the foreign minister's job to fill that gap.

Perhaps best known to Americans for a 1988 remark implying that blacks run out on their debts, Mr. Watanabe also is regarded as a hawkish if not nationalistic figure.

His first test comes in 10 days as host of a three-day visit by Secretary of State James A. Baker III.

Mr. Miyazawa, Mr. Watanabe and Kozo Watanabe, the new head of the powerful Ministry of International Trade and Industry, all have expressed a desire to deepen relations with the United States, which the prime minister calls "the cornerstone" of Japan's foreign policy.

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