Japan: Rebels deliver fatal blow to old guard: The Diet vote could see Japan emerging to play a more active role in the world, writes Terry McCarthy in Tokyo

KIICHI MIYAZAWA

Mr Miyazawa appeared close to tears as the parliament ended his political career, writes Raymond Whitaker. He recovered from the Recruit shares-for-favours scandal to become prime minister in October 1991, when he was 72. Mr Miyazawa has never been popular with the public or his fellow politicians. A chilly intellectual who had served in 13 Cabinet posts, he could never convince party chiefs that he was the best man for the top job, until, in 1991, there seemed to be no alternative.

SHIN KANEMARU

Until earlier this year, when he was disgraced, Shin Kanemaru was the most powerful man in Japan. He had never been prime minister, but chose the last three holders of the office.

ICHIRO OZAWA

Sees himself as Japan's next political kingmaker. His prospects, once dimmed by a heart ailment and the disgrace of his mentor, Shin Kanemaru, now appear to be on the rise again.

TSUTOMU HATA

Ostensible leader of the LDP revolt against Kiichi Miyazawa, is a 'front man' for others, but he may continue that role as prime minister if a political realignment follows.

NOBORU TAKESHITA

Former prime minister, forced out by scandal in 1989, remained powerful as leader of the faction to which Mr Hata, Mr Ozawa and Mr Kanemaru belonged until late last year.

MUCH OF Japanese politics is conducted behind cloaks, and sometimes a dagger is produced. Last night, the Prime Minister, Kiichi Miyazawa, had a dagger implanted between his shoulderblades: the most remarkable thing is that he did not see it coming until it was too late.

The man who plunged the blade in was Tsutomu Hata, 57, the parliamentary leader of a rebel faction of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

But plots in Japanese politics run deep. The political assassination of Mr Miyazawa, 73, was orchestrated from a distance by Ichiro Ozawa, 50, maverick pretender to the leadership of Japan. And behind Mr Ozawa, deeper in the shadows, was Shin Kanemaru, the former godfather of Japanese politics, who was the first to conceive of a fundamental restructuring of Japanese politics.

Nothing is as it appears: the superficial reason for Mr Miyazawa's fall is that he failed to implement political reforms that were somehow to have put an end to money politics and the financial scandals that have recently rocked the political world. But deeper influences were at work, as Mr Hata and his boss, Mr Ozawa, took advantage of Mr Miyazawa's predicament to push their own interests. Clean, corruption-free politics was not what it was all about.

Rather, Mr Ozawa and his followers ultimately envisage a new political system for Japan which breaks away from the old Cold War politics and puts the country on course to play a more responsible and active role in the world. And this must mean a transfer of power from one generation of politicians to the next, with all the problems and resistance that entails.

It will be a long and gradual process - and it is not even guaranteed the rebels will succeed where so many have failed before. Japan does not embrace change easily. So momentous was the decision, that Mr Hata stalled until almost the last minute before instructing his faction to vote against the Prime Minister. 'A thorny way is waiting for us, but we must keep going,' Mr Hata said yesterday after finally rejecting peace overtures from Mr Miyazawa. 'We must not flinch.'

The LDP is a resilient organisation, and has faced down many threats in its 38-year history. It has also managed to stay in power without interruption for that long - a record of government more usually associated with Communist regimes. But with the end of the Cold War, everything has changed in East Asia, and the LDP's monopoly on power may be running out.

The party was set up in 1955 as a merger between the Liberals and the Democrats, two rival conservative parties who agreed to get together to prevent leftwingers from taking power at a time when Communism seemed on the advance throughout Asia. This political accommodation, which was strongly supported by the US, has persevered until today, and served Japan well as it built up its economy while sheltering behind US foreign policy.

But the world has changed, even if the LDP has not. Japan in 1955 was still a poor nation struggling to industrialise and catch up with the affluent West. Today Japan has the second largest economy in the world, with per capita GNP nearly double that of the UK. But it has not really woken up to its economic might, still playing a timid role on the world stage. And with Russia on its knees and China exporting goods, not revolution, Japan's anti-Communist stance is losing relevance.

Domestically the LDP is still bound to outdated interest groups to prop up its electoral support - witness the importance of the farmers' lobby, which prevents the government from importing even one grain of rice. For a country whose trade surplus is bigger than the entire GNP of most Asian rice- growing countries, this is lunacy. A country that leads the world in cars and electronics should not have its hands tied by a diminishing group of pension- age rice farmers.

The first man to lay plans for a radical change of the political system was Mr Kanemaru, who was most recently in the news when he was arrested earlier this year for tax evasion after millions of dollars in cash and gold were found in his possession. Up to that time, he was the most powerful man in Japanese politics. He had appointed the previous three prime ministers, was the party's most efficient fundraiser from big business, and had useful backroom links with opposition parties.

In 1988 Mr Kanemaru first floated the idea of political realignment with some members of the opposition while he was negotiating the passage of an unpopular consumption tax through the Diet, or parliament. The idea was to take some of the more moderate members of the Socialists and a portion of the smaller opposition parties, and combine them with more progressive and outward-looking politicians in the LDP. On the way, the elder generation of LDP politicians - who are in hock to the bureaucrats and the farming lobby, and who shun any active international role for Japan - would be sidelined.

Mr Miyazawa, who grew up in the shadow of the US and meticulously avoided taking any political initiatives during his prime ministership, is a prime example of the type of politician that Mr Kanemaru and Mr Ozawa wanted to replace.

Mr Kanemaru intended to direct this transformation from behind the scenes through his protege, Mr Ozawa, whom he had groomed for leadership. He had even apparently built up a war chest to finance his new party - this was the money found when he was arrested in March, some political commentators say.

One theory is that the LDP elders leaked information about Mr Kanemaru's 'conspicuous wealth' to prosecutors to try to head off his looming challenge to the established party.

Mr Kanemaru's subsequent disgrace forced Mr Ozawa also to adopt a low profile. And so, in time-honoured Japanese fashion, Mr Ozawa picked Mr Hata as his front man. Mr Hata began forming his own faction dedicated to 'political reform' within the LDP last December. It drew its first blood last night.

(Photographs omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk