Murayama, Tomiichi


Murayama, Tomiichi
▪ 1995

      The election in June 1994 of Tomiichi Murayama as Japan's first Socialist prime minister in 47 years surprised everyone, including himself. With no previous experience in government or international affairs and little economic expertise, the self-effacing Murayama, the third prime minister in a year, was viewed as another titular head of another shaky coalition. An unorthodox alliance was formed between the Social Democratic Party of Japan (SDPJ) and their ideological foes in the Liberal-Democratic Party (LDP). The two groups that over the years had opposed each other on such vital issues as diplomacy, security, and taxation, now joined forces to block the ambitions of LDP renegade Ichiro Ozawa and to keep at bay the increasingly powerful reformists. The dubious arrangement was viewed as an opportunistic sell-out and a shameless grab for power.

      Against all predictions, however, the new government did well during its first months in office. Various contested political and economic reforms were cleared and trade agreements approved. Murayama's deft pragmatism on key policy issues guided the Socialists to tough sacrifices and made them come to terms with such realities as Japan's post-World War II military posture in the proliferation of UN peacekeeping missions, and the use of nuclear power. The deep split between his own party and the LDP was papered over by concessions on these issues, but by year's end Murayama once more looked vulnerable with the unraveling of unity within his own party and divisions emerging within the coalition while the opposition gained new coherence. Although the LDP and the SDPJ moved closer at the centres of power, their local organizations remained far apart. This boded ill for the 1995 elections, which were to be contested under a new electoral system that depended on strategic cooperation.

      Murayama was born in Oita prefecture on March 3, 1924, one of 11 children born to a poor fisherman. After graduating from Meiji University, Tokyo, in 1946, he returned to Oita to work as an activist in the local fishermen's union. The majority of Murayama's political career was spent in relative obscurity. He worked his way up from councilman in 1955 to prefectural assemblyman in 1963, then was elected to the lower House of the Diet (parliament) in 1972, where he served seven terms. Murayama moved into the limelight when, as a compromise candidate, he was coaxed into the chairmanship of the fractious SDPJ in September 1993. To his critics, the main assets of the prime minister seemed to be a lack of firm policies and the manner of a kind, bushy-browed grandpa. But he also profited from a good understanding of parliamentary tactics. Murayama's habits were homespun and modest, untainted by the sex and money scandals that had undone his predecessors. (GERD LARSSON)

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Universalium. 2010.

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