Upper House President Takeo Nishioka died of pneumonia early Saturday at a Tokyo hospital. He was 75.
Nishioka became president of the House of Councilors in July 2010, during the tenure of Prime Minister Naoto Kan. He was known for his fierce attacks on the Kan administration during his regular monthly news conferences.
After the March 11 quake and tsunami, he stepped up his criticism and spearheaded calls for Kan to resign over his handling of the twin disasters and the ensuing Fukushima nuclear crisis.
During his time at the helm of the upper chamber, he also demonstrated his eagerness to push through legislation on Upper House electoral reform to reduce the disparity in the weight of votes among electoral districts.
Nishioka had been experiencing health problems and was absent from Upper House plenary sessions held since the extraordinary Diet session convened Oct. 20.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda expressed his regret over Nishioka’s passing and praised his stewardship of the Upper House, saying he “exhibited strong leadership as president and steered the upper chamber skillfully, including during the debate on Upper House electoral reform.”
“We had high expectations that he could play a more active role in the course of Japan’s recovery and reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake,” Noda added.
A native of Nagasaki, Nishioka was a former editorial writer for the Nagasaki Shimbun. He was first elected to the Diet in 1963, when he ran as an independent and won a seat in the Lower House. He went on to serve 11 terms in the Lower House before being elected in 2001 to the Upper House, where he served two terms.
Although Nishioka entered the Lower House as an independent, he later joined the then ruling Liberal Democratic Party. He left the LDP in 1976 and formed the New Liberal Club, a now-defunct conservative splinter group, becoming its secretary general.
After rejoining the LDP in 1980, he served as education minister and as chairman of the party’s Policy Affairs Research Council in the Cabinets of Noboru Takeshita and Sosuke Uno.
After the LDP was briefly ousted from power in 1993, Nishioka again defected from the party, calling for political reform. He joined the short-lived New Frontier Party, together with current Democratic Party of Japan heavyweight Ichiro Ozawa. He then joined the Liberal Party, which eventually merged with the DPJ in 2003.
As is customary, Nishioka left the ruling party to serve as president of the Upper House.