When Hashimoto Ryūtarō became PRIME MINISTER in January 1996, it signalled that power had moved definitively back to the LIBERAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY (LDP) after two and a half years painfully trudging back from the political wilderness. When he resigned in July 1998, it indicated that, to survive, a Prime Minister now had to please a fickle electorate, not just the party.
Born in 1937, he graduated from Keiō University and first entered the House of Representatives for an Okayama constituency in 1963 at the age of 26, thereafter ensuring it was a safe seat. He joined the TANAKA faction, which he eventually came to lead. He was Health and Welfare Minister under OHIRA (1978-9), Transport Minister under NAKASONE (1986-7), Finance Minister under KAIFU (1989-90), MITI Minister under MURAYAMA (1994-6), and at one stage was LDP Secretary-General.
As Prime Minister from January 1996, he promoted reform of the financial system, with deregulation proceeding over a four-year period from 1997, and planned to reduce the number of government ministries over a similar period. Nevertheless, there was little in Hashimoto's record to suggest passionate commitment to reforming the system of government, and he proceeded cautiously. A huge issue for him was consumption tax. After much debate and uncertainty, he raised the rate from 3 to 5 per cent in 1998, following an intense campaign by the MINISTRY OF FINANCE. The timing was unfortunate, however, since it deepened the recession associated with the Asian economic crisis. The electorate reacted savagely, and in the Upper House elections of July 1998 the LDP lost many seats. Hashimoto consequently resigned at the end of July, to be replaced by OBUCHI KEIZŌ of the same faction.
Obuchi was incapacitated by a stroke on April 2000 and was replaced by MORI YOSHIRŌ, who quickly lost popularity. When Mori resigned in April 2001, the former Tanaka faction chose Hashimoto, now its leader, as its candidate for the succession. In primary elections conducted by party branches, Hashimoto and two other candidates were overwhelmed by the whirlwind candidacy of KOIZUMI JUNICHIRŌ. It undoubtedly hurt Hashimoto's chances of making a comeback that he was now seen as an election loser. Koizumi, in constructing his Cabinet, pointedly ignored the claims of the Hashimoto faction, thus risking its revenge once his own popularity began to decline, as it did from early in 2002.
Born in 1935 in Nagano, Hata Tsutomu was briefly Prime Minister of a minority Government in the summer of 1994.
He was first elected from Nagano to the HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES for the LIBERAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY (LDP) in its 1969 land-slide, and became a rising star of the TANAKA (later TAKESHITA) faction that dominated the LDP by the 1980s. He was Agriculture Minister for brief periods under NAKASONE in 1985-6, and again under Takeshita in 1988-9. Later