Prime Minister between July 1998 and April 2000, Obuchi Keizō has been described by Curtis as 'a consummate political insider'. He rarely took clear public stands on political issues, he made a virtue out of modesty, but, like his mentor TAKESHITA NOBORU, he knew the political system inside out, and was skilled at exploiting his network of connections in many fields.
He was born in June 1937 and died in May 2000. His father was a politician, and it was his father's death that brought him into politics as a member of the Lower House in the general elections of 1963 at the unusually early age of 26. His constituency was in Gunma Prefecture, which had produced the much more famous figures of FUKUDA and NAKASONE. Overshadowed by them he may have been, but he remained in Parliament continuously for the next 37 years.
As a member of the dominant TANAKA (later Takeshita) faction of the LIBERAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY (LDP), he filled several Cabinet positions, heading the PRIME MINISTER'S OFFICE, directing the OKINAWA DEVELOPMENT AGENCY, being Chief Cabinet Secretary (while Takeshita was Prime Minister) and Foreign Minister under HASHIMOTO between 1996 and 1998. He first became widely known, however, in 1992-3, when the HATA-OZAWA group defected from the Takeshita faction (and later from the LDP), leaving him in charge of the rump of the faction that stayed inside the party.
After Hashimoto resigned as PRIME MINISTER in July 1998, Obuchi, relying on insider votes, beat off challenges from the more widely popular KOIZUMI and KAJIYAMA, to become LDP President and thus Prime Minister. Both as Foreign Minister and then as Prime Minister, he proved rather more adept than expected. In the former post he negotiated Japanese adherence to the land mines treaty, and the Security Guidelines Agreement with the United States. In the latter, he was able to bring Ozawa's LIBERAL PARTY (III) into a coalition with the LDP in November 1998, and later enticed the CLEAN GOVERNMENT PARTY (Kōmeitō) to enter the coalition as well. Backed by this 'grand coalition', he was able to pass surprisingly easily a number of controversial bills during 1999, including a wiretapping bill, bills legitimising the raising of the national flag and singing of the national anthem in schools, and bills relating to the Japan-US Guidelines Agreement. Facing a severe banking crisis, he negotiated a rescue programme for city banks against widespread opposition at the expenditure of public money that this entailed.
In April 2000 the withdrawal from the coalition of much of the Liberal Party immediately preceded his severe stroke, which ended his career. He died a few weeks later.
Born in 1910 in Kagawa (Shikoku), Ohira was a Finance Ministry official turned politician. Like his junior, MIYAZAWA KIICHI, he was inspired by IKEDA HAYATO, for whom he worked in the late 1940s, and in the 1970s led the LIBERAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY (LDP) faction founded by