Obuchi’s departure from the political scene appears to mark the end of the “seven lieutenants” era of former Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita.
The seven are Obuchi, Ichiro Ozawa, Ryutaro Hashimoto, Seiroku Kajiyama, Tsutomu Hata, Kozo Watanabe and Keiwa Okuda.
They were all once key members of a Liberal Democratic Party faction led by Takeshita and the late party kingmaker, Shin Kanemaru, that dominated LDP politics during the late 1980s and the early 1990s.
Even after the faction’s breakup in 1992 and the defection of Ozawa and his followers from the LDP the following year, the seven men continued to play important roles in politics throughout the 1990s. Three of the seven — Obuchi, Hashimoto and Hata — became prime ministers.
Okuda died in 1998, and Obuchi — Takeshita’s closest aide, who took over the faction from his mentor — and Kajiyama are now hospitalized. There is little prospect that the comatose Obuchi will return to an active career.
The political clout of the other four are also on the wane. Ozawa, once touted as the leading reformer in Japanese politics, suffered the defection of a majority of his Liberal Party members Monday after the party left the LDP-led ruling alliance. His party is now the sixth-largest force in the Lower House and the seventh-largest in the upper chamber.
“Times are changing, and we cannot help it if the days of the seven are over,” said Watanabe, Lower House vice speaker.
Watanabe said Obuchi must have been terribly shocked by Ozawa’s departure from the coalition. Obuchi suffered a stroke and was hospitalized just a few hours after his talks with Ozawa broke down Saturday.
“Everybody walks away from Ozawa because he lacks the ability to deal humbly with people,” Watanabe said, referring to the defection of the Liberal Party lawmakers.
Watanabe said he regrets that Takeshita himself has been hospitalized for more than a year due to what has been described as back pain. “If Mr. Takeshita had been well, everybody would have consulted him,” he said.
Even after the fall of the seven, however, other former Takeshita faction members hold key positions in Nagata-cho. Among them are Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio Aoki and LDP Secretary General Hiromu Nonaka, who are believed to have orchestrated the transition from Obuchi to Yoshiro Mori.
Watanabe believes the Mori Cabinet will be effectively run by Aoki and Nonaka.