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Chapter Nine
Period of President Ohira's Leadership

Following the resignation of the Fukuda Cabinet, the recipient of the most votes in the recent primary election for the Party presidency, Masayoshi Ohira, was elected as the Party's 9th President on December 1, 1978 and subsequently became Prime Minister. His cabinet was formed amidst high expectations both within and outside of the Party for its success.

From the very beginning of its tenure, the Ohira Cabinet was faced with increasingly harsh international and domestic conditions that greatly complicated the task of political administration. In light of this, the cabinet chose to base its political practices upon the principles of "trust and consensus" and "sharing the people's joys and sorrows" in an effort to obtain the public's cooperation.

Two primary goals of the Ohira Cabinet in domestic politics were (1) to create a "Japanese-style welfare system" by strengthening the family units that constitute its foundation, and (2) to "promote the development of a nation of garden cities" where the energy of urban areas is combined with the comfortable ease of rural life. In international affairs, the cabinet committed itself to (1) continuing cooperation with the United States through the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty and maintaining high-quality defense capabilities, and (2) expanding diplomatic activities involving economic, human, and cultural exchange as part of a multi-faceted, comprehensive approach to international security. In addition, the government called for the establishment of loose and open regional "solidarity" among nations located along the Pacific Rim. This novel idea attracted much attention.

It should not be forgotten that Prime Minister Ohira's unique and perceptive understanding of the times as well as his imaginative political philosophy provided these initiatives with a firm foundation. He clearly recognized that Japan had become materially prosperous as a result of a long period of successful economic development and now needed to focus more on improving the quality of life and increasing the "appreciation of culture" within the country. He also firmly believed that without a keen awareness of the growing need to conserve the world's natural resources and promote the further expansion of mutual dependency in a rapidly developing "global community," the future of humankind was in serious jeopardy.

Based upon this noble political philosophy, Prime Minister Ohira's committed and tireless efforts to respond to dramatic changes at home and abroad and to secure a promising future for Japan and the Japanese people were the distinguished hallmarks of his administration.

The one year and seven months of the Ohira Cabinet's tenure was a period of particularly dramatic domestic and international changes in the postwar history of Japan. In the midst of this historic transition, the government was faced with the task of making extremely difficult choices concerning the country's future.

Domestically, the Ohira administration was confronted by a serious deterioration of the government's fiscal health that had developed in the wake of the government's considerable efforts to help the country pass safely through the recession following the first Oil Shock. The bond dependency ratio for the 1979 fiscal budget of 39.6 percent was a clear indication that the government's finances required immediate attention. In addition, the arrival of the second Oil Shock further increased the need to conserve energy over a more protracted period than had originally been anticipated. These developments put the future of the Japanese economy and people's livelihoods into serious question.

On the international stage, the decline of America's influence in world politics formed the backdrop for a number of events that dramatically increased tensions around the world including the Iranian Revolution, the Soviet Union's military intervention in Afghanistan, and the buildup of its armed forces in the southern Kurile Islands (or "Northern Territories" as they are known in Japan). In light of these developments, Japan, as an important member of the international community of liberal democratic nations, was called upon more urgently than ever before to take an active and assertive role in global affairs for the sake not only of its own peace and security, but for that of the world as well.

Fortunately, the Ohira Cabinet proved itself capable of responding rapidly and effectively to this highly fluid state of global affairs. Not only was it ultimately successful in leading the country through a difficult period of transition, but it accomplished many other great things in both domestic and international politics as well. Perhaps the most distinctive characteristic of the Ohira administration was its ability to formulate policies that responded to urgent needs in the short-term, such as ensuring the security of people's livelihoods, while at the same time seeking also to create a firm foundation for the country's future development in the medium- and long-term.

Of the Ohira Cabinet's many successful initiatives in domestic policymaking, perhaps the most impressive were measures taken to promote employment and those implemented to improve the social welfare system.

Although the Ohira Cabinet began its tenure during a time when the Japanese economy was steadily improving, over 1.2 million workers, mainly in structurally-depressed industries, remained jobless. In light of this, alleviating fears concerning unemployment was the administration's top priority. In 1979, the Ohira Cabinet supervised the compilation and passage of a 1.7 trillion yen budget that contained a number of critically important measures promoting employment.

These included (1) efforts to create approximately 100,000 new jobs (in particular for middle-aged and older workers), (2) an extension of the retirement age to protect the jobs of an additional 90,000 individuals, and (3) a lengthening of the period of eligibility for unemployment benefits that made it possible to provide financial support to 1.63 million people. In combination with the increase in jobs that followed in the wake of economic recovery in 1980, these measures produced dramatic improvements in the country's employment situation.

In addition, the government's dedicated efforts during a period of severe fiscal stress to increase payments for social security pensions, national pensions, and welfare pensions beginning in 1980 should not be overlooked. In particular, the raising of the standard monthly payment for social security pensions (to those who had contributed to the system for at least 30 years) to 136,000 yen brought Japan's social security system up to a truly world-class level. These successful initiatives in the fields of employment and welfare are certainly deserving of high praise as they made it possible for the Ohira Cabinet to make great progress towards its goals of "protecting people's livelihoods" and "building a Japanese-style welfare state."

Yet another notable achievement of the Ohira Cabinet was its efforts to improve the country's energy policies so that a more stable, long-term supply of oil could be secured at a time when restrictions on this natural resource had become especially severe.

Having recently experienced the first and second Oil Crises, individuals both within the Ohira Cabinet and the Liberal Democratic Party were convinced that the government's most important political task was to devise ways to ensure a steady, long-term supply of oil so that the health of the national economy and individual standards of living could be maintained. With this in mind, they set out eagerly in 1980 to put a number of important new energy policies in place.

These efforts involved much more than simply increasing spending on energy-related policies and programs by 30.9 percent over the previous year (to a total of 740 billion yen). Based on careful calculations of energy supply and demand, the Ohira administration also worked diligently to secure adequate long-term sources of financing to support the development and use of alternative sources of energy. An important component of these efforts was the creation of a "New Energy Development Organization" (Shin Enerugi Sogo Kaihatsu Kiko) that functioned as the principal promoter of these initiatives. These bold, innovative policies marked both the beginning of a new decade and the dawn of a new era of medium- and long-term energy policies for the country.

Throughout his term, Prime Minister Ohira demonstrated a fervent and ceaseless commitment to rebuilding the nation's finances. His strong sense of responsibility and devotion to his duties as a political leader made a truly lasting impression on Japanese politics.

Immediately after assuming his new post, Prime Minister Ohira became thoroughly convinced that his administration's most urgent priority was to reconstruct the government's finances so as to secure a promising future for the entire country. With this in mind and in light of the rapid recovery of the economy in 1979, he boldly asked the Japanese people during the general election held in October of that year if they would be willing to bear "new burdens" associated with this important task. After having carefully reviewed government revenues and expenditures, Prime Minister Ohira directed the compilation and passage of a budget for fiscal 1980 that included a one trillion yen reduction in the issuance of government bonds and lowered the bond dependency ratio to 33.5 percent.

Unfortunately, Prime Minister Ohira passed away suddenly before he was able to complete his agenda for fiscal reform. However, his success in building a consensus among political parties and the general public concerning the need to reconstruct public finances was undoubtedly one of his most important legacies.

In the field of international diplomacy, perhaps the most outstanding accomplishment of the Ohira administration was its hosting of the highly successful Tokyo Summit attended by leaders of the world's advanced industrialized countries in June of 1979. Both the entire Ohira Cabinet and the LDP worked tirelessly to ensure the success of this, the first summit meeting of its kind to be held in Asia. However, it was perhaps Prime Minister Ohira himself who went to the greatest lengths in his capacity as chairman of the summit to provide this important event with leadership and energy. This was particularly evident in his formulation of the well-known "Tokyo Declaration" (Tokyo Sengen).

Designed to counter the seemingly limitless price hikes and production control strategies employed by oil-producing countries, the Tokyo Declaration called for each of the world's seven advanced industrialized nations to cooperate in setting individual targets in 1979 and again from 1980 to 1985 for oil imports and the reduction of energy consumption. In addition, it contained concrete measures to promote the development of alternative sources of energy. This remarkable diplomatic achievement was of great importance in summit history.

From 1979 to 1980, Prime Minister Ohira was constantly on the move. In response to an increasingly tense state of international affairs, he traveled to the United States, China, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Canada, Yugoslavia, and West Germany to conduct active diplomacy at the highest levels. During this same period, arrangements were also made for both U.S. President Carter and Chinese Communist Party Chairman Hua Kuo-feng to meet with Prime Minister Ohira in Japan. The valuable contribution that this made to the improvement of friendly relations with these two countries should not be overlooked.

Yet perhaps the most noteworthy diplomatic accomplishment of the Ohira administration was the firm policies it formulated in response to situations that threatened international security, such as the illegal takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran during the Iranian Revolution and the Soviet military invasion of Afghanistan. It was Prime Minister Ohira's firm belief that Japan must respond resolutely to illegal actions that undermine international order even if doing so entails sacrifices for the country. Japan subsequently was at the forefront of international efforts to impose sanctions on the Soviet Union in part through the strengthening of COCOM (Coordinating Committee for Export Control) restrictions and the boycotting of the Olympic Games in Moscow.

In light of the need to cope more effectively with growing uncertainties in international affairs following the decline of American hegemony, Ohira firmly believed that it was necessary for Japan to form a strong cooperative "alliance" with the United States and Western Europe.

This brave initiative, perhaps more than any other made during his administration, demonstrated the true merits of Ohira's leadership and marked the beginning of a new era in Japanese diplomacy.

The Ohira Cabinet produced numerous impressive achievements in both domestic and international politics and successfully fulfilled the important task of leading the country through a turbulent period of historic transition. At the same time, Ohira's accomplishments as Liberal Democrat Party President in revitalizing the Party were also among the most noteworthy in the LDP's 25-year history.

First, Prime Minister Ohira worked diligently to expand the Party's size and capabilities. Former Prime Minister Fukuda had successfully recruited 1.5 million Party members and fraternal members during his tenure in office. Building upon this, Prime Minister Ohira challenged each Party member to bring at least one other person into the LDP as a member or fraternal member. As part of this effort, he launched a "Three Million Members Campaign" (Sanbyaku Man Toin Kakutoku Undo), organized a "Three-Year Program for Organizational Development" (Soshiki Seibi San Ka Nen Keikaku), and initiated a "Three-Year Program for Party Member Training" (Toin Kenshu San Ka Nen Keikaku). All of these activities greatly increased the size and enhanced the quality of the Party's membership. By January of 1980, the number of registered Party members and fraternal members in the Liberal National Congress had reached 3,106,703 and 107,073 respectively. This expansion of the LDP's organizational base of support was the most dramatic in the Party's history.

Second, the expansion of the LDP's organizational base of support increased its overall electoral strength as well.

In the unified local elections held in April, 1979, the Party encouraged each of its members or fraternal members to work to obtain votes for the LDP from at least ten other individuals. As a result of these concerted efforts, the Party was able to win gubernatorial races in the reformist party strongholds of Osaka and Tokyo. LDP candidates scored impressive victories in contests for the governorships of fifteen other regions across the country as well.

In an effort to build upon these successes and stabilize the political situation even further, the Ohira Cabinet decided to dissolve the Diet and hold a general election in October of the same year. Unfortunately, bad weather on the day of voting, a resulting low voter turnout, and a series of regrettable incidents involving public officials and public offices that demonstrated a decline in standards of professional conduct adversely affected the election's outcome. On its own, the Party was able to secure only a disappointing total of 248 seats. When added to seats won by conservative independents, this figure rose slightly to 258.

Undaunted by this setback, Prime Minister Ohira remained firmly committed to pursuing his cherished goal of stabilizing Japanese politics. In May of 1980, the Socialist Party, in an effort to further their own narrow interests, introduced a bill in the Diet calling for a vote of no confidence in the Ohira Cabinet. In response, Prime Minister Ohira decided to hold a rare double election for the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors that would allow instead for the people to make this important decision regarding the fate of his administration. He set the stage for this historic political showdown by asking the public to make a clear choice between "an unstable coalition government controlled by opposition parties or a stable administration led by the Liberal Democratic Party." In doing so, Prime Minister Ohira once again demonstrated his desire to take the lead in keeping the country's politics on a steady course.

Sadly, Prime Minister Ohira fell ill in the run-up to the election and passed away in the early hours of June 12, without having been able to witness the Party's spectacular victory. Up until the very end, however, he continued to work tirelessly to ensure the Party's success and the stability of Japanese politics. These extraordinary efforts included the making from his deathbed of two announcements to Party members and fraternal members in which he urged them to rise up and fight. Prime Minister Ohira's loyalty to the Party and dedication to establishing political stability touched the hearts not only of people within the Party, but those of members of the general public as well. In answer to Prime Minister Ohira's repeated calls for unity, the Party battled through the election with an unprecedented level of enthusiasm and secured a stunning victory. The LDP won control of 284 seats in the House of Representatives and 69 in the House of Councillors. When added to seats won by conservative independents and uncontested seats in the House of Councillors already occupied by LDP members, the Party had secured a comfortable majority of 286 seats in the House of Representatives and 136 in the House of Councillors.

Although Prime Minister Ohira's administration came to a rather abrupt end, the historic significance of his work to revive the party, establish political stability, and lead the country through a difficult period of transition even when doing so involved great personal sacrifice will not be forgotten.

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