Obuchi, Keizō


Obuchi, Keizō
born June 25, 1937, Nakanojō, Japan
died May 14, 2000, Tokyo

Japanese politician.

A graduate of Waseda University, he was first elected to the Diet (legislature) in 1963, where he spent 12 terms, serving as chairman of the finance committee (1976) and minister for foreign affairs (1997). As Japan's prime minister (1998–2000), Obuchi had to deal with Japan's flagging economy and the related Asian economic crisis.

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▪ 2001

      Japanese politician (b. June 25, 1937, Nakanojo, Japan—d. May 14, 2000, Tokyo, Japan), served as prime minister of Japan from July 1998 until just before his death and was responsible for instituting policies that sparked Japan's economic recovery in the wake of the Asian financial crisis. The son of a politician, Obuchi earned a degree in English literature from Waseda University, Tokyo, in 1962. The following year, at age 26, he became the youngest person ever elected to the Diet (parliament), winning the seat his father had held in the Diet's lower house. Retaining his seat in 11 subsequent elections, Obuchi built a reputation as a congenial party functionary adept at forging behind-the-scenes compromises between competing political factions. In 1973 he served as deputy director general in the prime minister's office, and in 1987 he was named chief cabinet secretary. He also rose steadily through the ranks of the ruling Liberal-Democratic Party (LDP), serving as deputy secretary-general (1984) and secretary-general (1991). He was appointed foreign minister by Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto in 1997. A year later he replaced Hashimoto, who was forced to resign as prime minister following the LDP's stunning losses in elections to the upper house of the Diet. Obuchi also assumed the presidency of the LDP. Although as foreign minister he had been perceived as bland and undistinguished—pundits dubbed him “Mr. Average” and described him as “about as exciting as cold pizza”—Obuchi moved quickly to win the confidence of Japanese citizens, assembling a credible cabinet and vowing decisive action to pull the country out of its worst economic crisis in decades. He first addressed the formidable problems facing Japan's banking sector. After a frustrating two months in office, Obuchi was able to win parliamentary approval of crucial bills to bail out banks saddled with bad loans. In other efforts to jump-start the Japanese economy, he drastically cut income taxes and significantly expanded the budget. Obuchi's stimulus package had the intended effect—by July 1999 Japan's gross domestic product had begun to expand again after months of decline. Obuchi's approval ratings soared, though by the time of his death support for his administration had slipped as the economic recovery slowed. He died six weeks after suffering a stroke that left him comatose.

▪ 1999

      On July 30, 1998, Japan's Diet (parliament) named Keizo Obuchi the country's new prime minister. He replaced Ryutaro Hashimoto, who was forced to resign as prime minister and as president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) following the LDP's stunning losses in elections in the upper house of the Diet earlier in the month. On July 24 the LDP had elected Obuchi its new president over two other candidates and thus all but assured his approval as prime minister, since the LDP held a majority in the powerful lower house. The selection of Obuchi as party president was seen as a triumph for the LDP's veteran power brokers over younger party members, who had called for more dynamic leadership. An undistinguished, mild-mannered foreign minister whom pundits had dubbed "Mr. Average" and described as "about as exciting as cold pizza," Obuchi was nevertheless considered a competent politician who headed the largest of the five LDP factions. After prevailing in the Diet's first split vote for prime minister since 1989, he acknowledged being the candidate least popular with the general public and moved quickly to win the confidence of Japanese citizens, assembling a credible Cabinet and vowing decisive action to pull the country out of its worst economic crisis in decades.

      Obuchi was born on June 25, 1937, in Nakanojo, Japan. The son of a politician, he resolved to become a politician himself after his father died in 1958. At Waseda University, Tokyo, he joined the university's oratory club to hone his speaking skills and, believing that a politician should also be physically strong, practiced bodybuilding and aikido. He earned a degree in English literature in 1962. The following year, at age 26, he was elected to the seat his father had held in the lower house of the Diet.

      Retaining his seat in 11 subsequent elections, Obuchi built a reputation as a congenial party functionary adept at forging behind-the-scenes compromises between competing political factions. In 1973 he served as deputy director general in the prime minister's office, and in 1987 he was named chief Cabinet secretary. He also rose steadily through the ranks of the LDP, serving as deputy secretary-general (1984) and secretary-general (1991). Hashimoto appointed him foreign minister in 1997.

      As prime minister, Obuchi had as his first order of business the need to address the formidable problems facing Japan's banking sector. After a frustrating two months, his administration was able to win parliamentary approval of crucial bills to bail out banks saddled with bad loans. In other efforts to jump-start the Japanese economy, he planned to cut taxes by more than $41 billion and to seek a significantly expanded 1999 budget. Although some observers doubted Obuchi's ability to implement effective proposals, his experience in striking deals and his strong power base within the LDP were reassuring to others.

TEIJI SHIMIZU

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Universalium. 2010.

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