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Japan: Seconds for Sato

3 minute read

The victory feast was elaborate in the best Japanese manner: wild boar soup, egg roll, raw fish, grilled eel and steaming platters of yakitori (chicken-on-a-stick). But the victory was not as sweet as expected, and the host could be pardoned if his appetite was a bit dull. In the election that preceded last week’s “victory dinner” in his garden, Japan’s Premier Eisaku Sato won his party’s renomination under a cloud of rebuke from more than a third of his Liberal Democratic lieutenants. His victory thus assured him not only of almost automatic re-election as Japan’s Premier in next year’s election but of increasing trouble from his party colleagues.

Sato’s own analysts had determined that he would need 300 of the 459 votes cast for the party presidency in order to reaffirm his strength. If his opponents, led by former Cabinet Member Aiichiro Fujiyama, captured 150 votes or more, Sato would have to consider himself seriously censured. As party leaders walked solemnly across the stage of Hibiya Hall to cast their ballots, Sato looked on impassively. His strongly arched Kabuki-actor eyebrows barely twitched at the final count: 289 votes for Sato, 170 against.

Though none of his challengers appeared strong enough to unseat Sato in the near future (Fujiyama led the opposition with 89 votes), the election clearly showed that the party is uneasy with Sato’s leadership and his handling of the “black mist” Cabinet scandals that have tarnished the government’s image. Sato told the delegates in his acceptance speech that he would “humbly accept the criticism” registered in the vote, then set about blowing away the black mist.

Sato’s first move was a complete Cabinet overhaul aimed at ending corruption. “Make sure you separate your public and private life,” Sato warned each appointee. Among the new faces: State Minister Kiichi Miyazawa, 47, an economist who will double as director of the economic planning agency; Finance Minister Mikio Mizuta, 61, a proponent of greater capital investment in industry; Foreign Minister Takeo Miki, 59, an advocate of increased Japanese aid and development projects in the rest of Asia.

With a Cabinet full of fresh faces, Sato hopes to restore confidence in the Liberal Democratic government—a confidence that has fallen from a high of 47% popular support in 1964 to a scant 25% according to last week’s Asahi Shimbun poll. Though the Liberal Democrats’ opponents have been fragmented for a decade, Sato wants to take no chances that his troubles might unite them before the elections.

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