The political career of the late Noboru Takeshita was rocked by a series of scandals that forced him to largely wield his influence from behind the scenes after he stepped down as prime minister in 1989.
People who knew him describe him as a “caring man” who often gave others the credit for his own achievements, but he was also known as a power-oriented politician who inherited the style of his mentor — the late Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka — and was frequently the target of allegations of corruption.
Despite his solid grip on power within the Liberal Democratic Party, Takeshita was a short-lived prime minister who occupied the office for only 11/2 years from November 1987.
In the Recruit stock-for-favors scandal of the late 1980s, it was disclosed that 10,000 shares of Recruit Cosmos Co., a real estate subsidiary of the major job-information firm, had been sold to Takeshita’s secretary, Ihei Aoki, before the firm was publicly floated, earning Takeshita 22 million yen.
Takeshita also came under fire when it was revealed that he had received 135 million yen in financial assistance from Recruit.
He announced his resignation in April 1989 to break a deadlock in the Diet caused by the scandal. The next day, Aoki, who had been interrogated by prosecutors over the case, killed himself, prompting investigators to drop the investigation.
In 1992, it surfaced — in the course of the Sagawa Kyubin bribery scandal — that the help of an underworld leader was sought by Takeshita in his run for the prime ministership in 1987.
In September 1987, as Takeshita was competing with rivals in the LDP presidential race, he and the late kingmaker Shin Kanemaru sought to end an anti-Takeshita harassment campaign by a rightwing group by seeking help from the leader of an influential crime syndicate.
Takeshita was summoned to testify before the Diet over the case.
On policy matters, Takeshita is credited with the 1989 introduction of the consumption tax, which many of his predecessors had tried and failed to get passed.
It was brought about thanks to Takeshita’s political influence as well as the power of his own faction — the largest within the ruling LDP. It was also this controversial tax, however, coupled with the Recruit scandal, that caused his popularity to plunge in the final days of his term as prime minister.
Takeshita’s ability to maneuver politically was developed through long years spent in key government posts, beginning with his stint as deputy chief Cabinet secretary under Eisaku Sato in 1964. He served as chief Cabinet secretary in the administrations of Sato and his successor, Tanaka.
Takeshita was deeply involved in the government’s efforts to introduce the consumption tax. When he became finance minister under the administration of Masayoshi Ohira in 1979, his primary job was to deal with the aftermath of Ohira’s aborted plan to introduce such a tax.
After that, Takeshita continued to try to revive the consumption tax as he steadily built up his influence within the LDP. He was LDP secretary general when Yasuhiro Nakasone failed in his attempt to push through his sales tax legislation.
After he became prime minister in 1987, Takeshita quickly embarked on his own consumption tax attempt. Through strenuous, behind-the-scenes negotiations and bargaining with the opposition camp, he finally succeeded in winning Diet approval of his tax reform package, which included a 3 percent consumption tax, in December 1988.
Finance Minister Kiichi Miyazawa, who served as finance minister in the administration of the late Noboru Takeshita, lauded the former prime minister as a lawmaker capable of seeing political situations in perspective.
“He was a sort of instructor who never failed to take a broad view of politics,” Miyazawa told reporters Monday. “There won’t be another person like him.”
Miyazawa pointed out that Takeshita’s two major accomplishments concerned economic policies: the 1985 Plaza Accord with four other economic powers to correct the strong dollar and the 1989 introduction of the consumption tax.
Although Miyazawa was once considered to be a rival of Takeshita for the leadership of the Liberal Democratic Party, he said Takeshita was the more skilled.
“What he says becomes true and what I say doesn’t. That’s how I often felt,” Miyazawa said. “No other person has created so many human resources in the political circle in the postwar era.”
He said Takeshita’s proteges remain assets to the nation even after his death.
Former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone expressed sorrow over Takeshita’s death, saying it comes as a reminder that the center of Japan’s politics is moving toward the younger generations.
Nakasone, who designated Takeshita as his successor as LDP president in 1987, described him as a friend with whom he worked.
Koichi Kato, a former LDP secretary general, recalled Takeshita as a “scriptwriter” of the political situation in both the LDP and opposition parties. “From now on, Japan will lack a person to draw the picture of the political situation. (We’ve lost) the ultimate authority in politics,” he said.
Chinese President Jiang Zemin and Prime Minister Zhu Rongji sent telegrams of condolence Monday to Japan over the death of former Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita, emphasizing his contributions to promoting relations between Japan and China, Chinese officials said.
South Korean President Kim Dae Jung also sent a telegram of condolence, a presidential spokesman in Seoul said.
Kim said in the telegram that Takeshita “as a respectable Japanese politician made a great contribution to Japan’s development.”
and also as chairman of the (South) Korea-Japan Parliamentarians’ Union, left behind the great achievement of promoting friendly ties between Japan and (South) Korea.”