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Hiromu Nonaka, Abe critic and former government spokesman, dies at 92

Kyodo

Hiromu Nonaka, a pacifist politician from the Liberal Democratic Party who served as the government’s top spokesman in the late 1990s and was critical of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s drive to amend the Constitution, died Friday at a hospital in Kyoto, a party source said. He was 92.

Once regarded as one of the LDP’s most influential doyens, the Kyoto native served as chief Cabinet secretary in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi from 1998 to 1999, working toward the establishment of the three-way coalition government comprising the LDP, the Liberal Party and New Komeito.

Nonaka became secretary-general of the LDP in 2000. In the party’s leadership race in April 2001, he backed former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, who was defeated by Junichiro Koizumi.

He then chose to retire from politics in 2003 instead of running for an eighth term in the House of Representatives.

Even after leaving politics in November that year, he remained vocal, rapping Abe’s steering of the government as “dangerous and biased.”

He was critical of the Abe administration’s decision to enable the Self-Defense Forces’ use of collective self-defense, or defending an ally under attack even if Japan itself is not under attack. Collective defense was long considered banned by the Constitution.

Nonaka also opposed Abe’s ongoing efforts to amend war-renouncing Article 9.

“We should not make history that leads to another war. I am against it,” he said.

Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of junior coalition partner Komeito, said Nonaka was steered by his life experiences.

“Having experienced the war, he was extremely cautious and restrained about security and defense policies,” Yamaguchi said.

Muneo Suzuki, a former House of Representatives member who was close with Nonaka, said, “He was a politician who sought total pacifism.”

Nonaka started his political career by getting elected to the assembly of the town of Sonobe, now called Nantan, in Kyoto at the age of 25. He later became its mayor and deputy governor of Kyoto.

He only entered national politics at age 57, after getting elected to the Lower House in 1983.

His first Cabinet post came in 1994 under the government of Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama. As head of the National Public Safety Commission, he dealt with a number of major crises the following year, including the deadly sarin attack on the Tokyo subway system by cult Aum Shinrikyo and the magnitude 7.3 Great Hanshin Earthquake that claimed the lives of 6,434 people in Kobe and its vicinity.