Junichiro Koizumi, the newly elected Liberal Democratic Party president, set about putting the party’s house in order Wednesday by selecting the three lawmakers who will hold the top LDP slots.
Taku Yamasaki, the newly appointed secretary general, is known in political circles as an “earnest worker,” a reputation that should serve him well.
Yamasaki, 64, has said in the past that if serious reforms are not carried out, the LDP and Japan will have no future. Now that he holds the No. 2 post in the party, the question of whether he has the ability to make a difference in the party’s reconstruction has come to the fore.
Since the formation of “Group New Century,” an intraparty study group Yamasaki put together in 1994 with Koizumi and former LDP Secretary General Koichi Kato, the three have come to be known as the “YKK trio” of new leaders. At the time, the trio was looking to subvert the influence of the late Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita, whose faction is now led by former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto.
However, Yamasaki and Koizumi were at loggerheads in November when Yamasaki joined Kato’s attempt to oust the government of Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori. Koizumi, who was then the nominal leader of Mori’s faction, stood behind his leader and drove Yamasaki and Kato back.
The three have settled their differences since then, and Yamasaki cooperated with Kato to back Koizumi’s bid for the party leadership, earning himself the LDP’s No. 2 post.
In 1998, Yamasaki left the former Watanabe faction to form his own group. He challenged the late Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi in the LDP’s presidential election the following year, despite knowing that his chances were slim.
Yamasaki graduated from Waseda University in 1959 and later worked at Bridgestone Tire Co., the predecessor to Bridgestone Corp., from 1959 to 1963.
He then turned to politics, serving as a member in the Fukuoka Prefectural Assembly before running for a seat in the Lower House.
First elected to the chamber in 1972, Yamasaki has since been re-elected 10 times in the No. 2 constituency of his home prefecture of Fukuoka. He served as a director general of the Defense Agency in the Cabinet of the late Sousuke Uno in 1989.
Yamasaki has been a central figure among lawmakers who aim to reinforce the Defense Agency’s authority. He is an advocate of amending the Constitution and plans to release a draft on May 3, Constitution Day.
As Yamasaki has been critical of the LDP’s alliance with New Komeito and the New Conservative Party, one of his main tasks as secretary general will be rebuilding trust among the three parties.
Yamasaki, an avid athlete, is a veteran practitioner of judo and captain of a local softball team.
Taro Aso is a pedigreed politician — both his grandfather and father-in-law are former prime ministers — but is viewed as something of a maverick within the LDP for his outspoken remarks about fellow politicians and their policies.
Aso, 60, is the grandson of the late Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida, the prime minister who famously signed the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty, and the son-in-law of former Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki, who served from 1980 to 1982. Yet despite these old-school ties, he manages to project the image of a leader who represents the views of the younger generation.
Believing that economic recovery should be at the top of the LDP’s to-do list, Aso has criticized Koizumi’s policy of addressing structural reform before economic recovery.
He was one of the three contenders who lost to Koizumi in the LDP presidential race Tuesday.
He was no doubt surprised, then, when Koizumi, upon clinching the presidency, promptly requested he assume the post of policy research council chairman, one of three plum party positions.
In the contest for the LDP’s top post, Aso garnered 31 votes, a respectable number considering the small size of the faction to which he belongs, which is headed by Foreign Minister Yohei Kono.
And of the four candidates who ran in the LDP presidential race, Aso, serving his seventh term, has the least Diet experience. Koizumi is serving his 10th term in the Lower House, former LDP policy chief Shizuka Kamei his eighth, and former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto his 13th.
The Fukuoka native is also a former Olympian who represented Japan in trapshooting at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.
Aso graduated from Gakushuin University and went on to study in the United States and Britain. In 1973 he became president of Aso Cement Co., a family-owned business. He was then selected in 1978 to head the Japan Junior Chamber, a nationwide organization of chambers of commerce for young business executives.
Aso was first elected to the Lower House in 1979 and has held several key posts, mainly in education and foreign affairs. He was named head of the Economic Planning Agency in 1996 in the Hashimoto Cabinet.
In Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori’s Cabinet, Aso was minister of economic and fiscal policy.
Mitsuo Horiuchi, newly named chief of the decision-making Executive Council, caused a stir as trade minister when he accused Japan National Oil Corp., an entity under his jurisdiction, of doctoring financial data.
Company head-turned-lawmaker Horiuchi, 71, made the charge in an article carried in the leading monthly magazine Bungei Shunju in 1998.
Horiuchi, who headed the former Ministry of International Trade and Industry in 1997, also recommended the following year that a former JNOC executive not be paid a retirement allowance.
A native of Yamanashi Prefecture who served as president of railway and resort company Fuji Kyuko Corp., Horiuchi was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1976.
While known for his reserved nature, his anger over a revolt by LDP lawmaker Koichi Kato in November surprised his elder, Finance Minister Kiichi Miyazawa.
Kato, a former LDP secretary general, attempted to topple the unpopular Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori by announcing his intent to support a no-confidence motion submitted against Mori’s Cabinet by the opposition.
Although Horiuchi then belonged to the LDP faction led by Kato, he later left it and formed a breakaway group he now heads in protest of Kato’s aborted attempt to oust Mori.
Kato’s close ally Taku Yamasaki has been named LDP secretary general by Koizumi, so how Horiuchi and Yamasaki will get along in their new posts is a question now raising eyebrows.
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