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)

News
people

Actress sees off speculation about her appearance in an amazing way

Arts and Entertainment
Serge Pizzorno of Kasabian and Noel Fielding backstage at the Teenage Cancer Trust concerts
musicKasabian and Noel Fielding attack 'boring' musicians
News
peopleLynda Bellingham's tragic final Loose Women appearance moves audience to tears
Arts and Entertainment
'Right Here' singer Jess Glynne is nominated for Best Newcomer at the MOBO Awards 2014
musicExclusive: Jess Glynne hits out at 'ridiculous' criticism of white artists nominated for Mobo Awards
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Separated at birth? Frank Sivero (left) claims The Simpsons based Mafia character Louie on his Goodfellas character
arts + entsFrank Sivero sues Simpsons studio over allegedly basing mobster character on Frank Carbone
News
Carl Bernstein (left) and Bob Woodward (right) with former 'Washington Post' executive editor Ben Bradlee
people

The Washington Post editor helped Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein bring down President Nixon

News
news

Voices
Stephanie first after her public appearance as a woman at Rad Fest 2014
voices

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

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

Database Administrator

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: The role could involve w...

Science Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Qualified secondary s...

Deputy Head of Science

£22000 - £36000 per annum + MPR / UPR: Randstad Education Southampton: Our cli...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London