Keizo Obuchi, the new Liberal Democratic Party president who is certain to become prime minister next week, is known for a low-key, consensus-oriented political style that has earned him few enemies.
This style was inherited from his mentor, former Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita, who was known for his patient, behind-the-scenes maneuvering and to whom Obuchi was known to be a close aide.
Takeshita once headed a powerful faction that literally dominated the LDP and whose members included Ryutaro Hashimoto, Seiroku Kajiyama, Ichiro Ozawa and Tsutomu Hata.
After the faction was split with the defection of Ozawa and his followers in 1992, it was Obuchi who inherited the group from Takeshita. He has since rebuilt the faction into the party’s largest, with a current membership of 92.
Despite his image as a soft-spoken lawmaker, Obuchi, 61, has survived tough competition in an electoral district that has produced two prime ministers — Takeo Fukuda and Yasuhiro Nakasone.
Since first being elected to the Lower House from the Gunma No. 3 district in 1963, he has consistently ranked third behind Fukuda and Nakasone. He once described his situation in the constituency as like “a ‘ramen’ (Chinese noodle) stall that stands between two high-rise buildings.”
Although the No. 3 constituency of Gunma has since been divided into single-seat districts, Obuchi will be the third prime minister to be elected from the area.
He entered politics at age 26 after the sudden death of his father, who was also a Diet member. Obuchi has since been elected to the Lower House 12 times.
He says he still treasures the chat he had with the late U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy while he was a Waseda University student.
Despite being a veteran LDP lawmaker, the public knows little about Obuchi. Perhaps he is best remembered as the man who, as top government spokesman under the Takeshita administration, officially announced the start of the Heisei Era in 1989, upon the death of Emperor Showa.
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