Hosokawa, Morihiro


Hosokawa, Morihiro
▪ 1994

      In his maiden speech before the Japanese Diet (parliament) in August, Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa advocated "responsible change" and promised to make Japan a country of "quality and substance." The words signaled a break with the old political order, which had sunk the nation into a quagmire of corruption and stifled reforms.

      Cleaning up politics to regain public trust became the keynote of the new Cabinet; the prime minister was publicly staking his political future on the implementation of political reforms before year's end. Specifically, the new government planned to replace multimember constituencies with ones mixing single-member constituencies with proportional representation. Another goal was to tighten rules on campaign funding. Hosokawa pushed reform bills through the lower house in mid-November and scored points in his handling of foreign policy. Seeking to reassure Japan's Asian neighbours, he opened up a new era of understanding and partnership by unequivocally apologizing for Japanese "aggression and colonial rule." No other Japanese leader had ever made such a statement. Hosokawa also set out to get the derailed economy back on track by giving priority to ordinary consumers, but his attempts to deregulate and decentralize the economy met strong opposition. By year's end Hosokawa was himself admitting some disappointment in what he had been able to accomplish.

      Hosokawa was born on Jan. 14, 1938, in Kumamoto prefecture. His direct ancestors were among the most famous of Japan's historical figures. After graduating in 1963 from Sophia University, a Roman Catholic institution in Tokyo, Hosokawa became a journalist with the Asahi shimbun. In 1971 he entered politics and became the youngest person ever elected to the (upper) House of Councillors. He served two six-year terms, spent eight years as governor of Kumamoto, then returned to national politics. Disillusioned with the scandal-ridden Liberal-Democratic Party (LDP), Hosokawa bolted the party in September 1990 and in May 1992 founded the Japan New Party (JNP). A mere two months later, he and three other members of the JNP won seats in the upper house. In the historic July 18 national elections, which ended the LDP's 38-year hold on the government, the JNP snared 36 seats in the House of Representatives. With the support of seven parties, Hosokawa was unexpectedly elected prime minister on August 6.

      Although Hosokawa's rainbow Cabinet initially was given little chance of survival, the prime minister continued to enjoy record-high popularity ratings and a rather favourable press. The Japanese seemed somewhat awed by the aristocratic diffidence of their new leader, whose political style was perceived as a shrewd combination of new and old ways. He described himself and U.S. Pres. Bill Clinton as "leaders of the same generation, both calling for change" to meet the challenges of a world in transition.

      (GERD LARSSON)

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Universalium. 2010.

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