Fortune did not smile on Mr. Ryutaro Hashimoto when he sought the presidency of the Liberal Democratic Party, and the premiership, for a second time in April 2001. He was badly defeated by Mr. Junichiro Koizumi. But Mr. Hashimoto, prime minister from January 1996 to July 1998, who died over the weekend at the age of 68, is credited with leaving a legacy of reform that Mr. Koizumi inherited and expanded to push his own policy agenda.
As head of the coalition government of the LDP, the Japan Socialist Party and Sakigake, a minor conservative group, the reform-mined Mr. Hashimoto reorganized the government structure into the current form — 12 ministries and agencies plus the Cabinet Office. He introduced a decision-making system in which the prime minister took a stronger initiative — a style used by Mr. Koizumi. He also began the “big bang” series of financial market-deregulation moves.
Mr. Hashimoto struck an agreement with U.S. President Bill Clinton to expand Japan-U.S. security cooperation, which became the foundation for the close security ties affirmed between the two countries under the Koizumi administration.
In the macroeconomic field, Mr. Hashimoto left a negative record. In 1997, when the economy started picking up, he raised the consumption tax rate from 3 percent to 5 percent and ended tax cuts, causing the Japanese economy to plunge into a period of prolonged deflation that has affected the lives of many people.
He cut a deal with the United States under which Washington agreed to return Futenma airfield in Okinawa to Japan. He vigorously negotiated with Russian President Boris Yeltsin in an effort to solve the northern territories issue. Despite his efforts both these issues remained unresolved.
As head of the Japan War-Bereaved Association, he made annual visits to Yasukuni Shrine. But in March, he went to China to try to mend Japan-China ties, which had soured due to Mr. Koizumi’s repeated visits to the memorial for Japan’s war dead.
Unfortunately, when Mr. Hashimoto ended his active political career last year, it was in the shadow of a 100 million yen donation scandal involving his LDP faction and the Japan Dentists Federation.
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