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Chapter Ten
Period of President Suzuki's Leadership

The LDP leadership began work on selecting a new Party President immediately after Prime Minister Ohira's untimely death. The LDP's stunning victory in the recent double election and the clear mandate it had received from the public to continue its work to maintain stability in politics and government convinced the vast majority of Party members that a successor should be chosen by intra-Party negotiations so as to avoid creating a political vacuum at such a critical time. After this method of selection had been agreed upon, Vice-President Nishimura nominated Zenko Suzuki for the post. Suzuki subsequently became the Party's 10th President and a new LDP administration was born.

A true Party politician, Suzuki placed strong emphasis on consensus and unity within the LDP. From the very start of his new cabinet, he chose the "politics of harmony" as the basic principle of his administration.

Several important components of Prime Minister Suzuki's policy agenda, including "improving political and professional ethics," "rebuilding public finances," "advancing administrative reform," "developing comprehensive security policies," "promoting energy policies," and "creating a vibrant aging society," were inherited from the preceding Ohira administration. Prime Minister Suzuki announced that his administration's primary task would be to work through these policies to build a "firm foundation for the country as it approaches the 21st Century."

Throughout the two years and three months of its tenure, however, the Suzuki Cabinet was faced with a multitude of important challenges as Japan and the rest of the world moved through the turbulent period of the 1980s.

Internationally, the Soviet Union's increased military spending was intensifying concerns about the security threat this country might pose to others at the same time that a global recession was negatively affecting national economies throughout the world. In the midst of this turmoil, the Japanese government was forced to respond more conscientiously and steadily than ever before to each of an increased number of American and European demands that complex changes be made to the country's political, defense, and economic policies.

In domestic politics, the Suzuki Cabinet worked diligently to implement administrative reforms that would enable the government to respond more effectively to important challenges the country was expected to face in coming years such as (1) reduced rates of economic growth, (2) limited supplies of energy, (3) an aging and more highly-educated population, (4) increased trade friction, and (5) a more prominent role for Japan in international politics. In light of the steady accumulation of public bonds and a stagnant economy that provided few reasons to hope that tax revenues would increase appreciably in the foreseeable future, fiscal reform became an even more pressing policy concern.

With these issues in mind, Prime Minister Suzuki went to great lengths in his policy speeches and at other public occasions to speak frankly of the many difficult problems the country was facing at home and abroad and to ask the people to "practice strict self-restraint" and remain "perseverant." Japan's most important foreign policy objective at the time was defined as being the task of shouldering its fair share of responsibilities in international affairs as a member of the Western world while working to eliminate trade frictions. To this was added the primary goal in domestic politics of effectively implementing administrative and fiscal reforms that would prepare the country to face the challenges of the 21st Century. Throughout its tenure in office, the Suzuki Cabinet worked resolutely in close cooperation with the Party to achieve these objectives.

The leadership that Prime Minister Suzuki demonstrated during a series of summit meetings was undoubtedly one of the most noteworthy characteristics of his administration. After a tour of five ASEAN countries in January of 1981, he traveled on to visit the United States and Canada in May and eight countries in Western Europe in June. Prime Minister Suzuki's exhausting schedule also included his attendance at a summit of the world's advanced industrialized nations held in Ottawa, Canada in July and again at the North-South Summit in Cancun, Mexico in October of the same year. Then in June of 1982, he participated in another summit of advanced industrialized nations held in Versailles, France, followed by attendance at the Second United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Disarmament in New York. His remarkable stint of international diplomacy was finally capped by a tour through Central and South America and an official visit to China in September.

Prime Minister Suzuki accomplished much during his visits with foreign heads of state. First, his talks with U.S. President Reagan in May of 1981 resulted in the reaffirmation by both sides that "the alliance between Japan and the United States is founded upon a shared commitment to democracy and freedom." In a joint statement issued at the conclusion of the summit, the two leaders also stressed that it was desirable for both countries to divide responsibilities for defense appropriately. These discussions contributed greatly to the strengthening of the close relationship with the United States that plays such a pivotal role in Japanese foreign policy. Second, Prime Minister Suzuki also went to great lengths at summit meetings of the world's advanced industrialized countries and in separate visits he made to eight Western countries to emphasize the need for the Western world to work to build unity and cooperate more closely in a "spirit of harmony" with the goal of forming a shared understanding of international problems and developing common strategies to cope with them. Third, he pledged to expand Japan's economic and political role in international affairs in part by working to revitalize the global economy through a plan to increase cooperation with countries in the Third World and double the amount of Japan's official development aid directed to them within the next five years.

Prime Minister Suzuki deserves special credit for the success of these diplomatic efforts that clearly demonstrated Japan's resolve to work diligently within the boundaries it had set for itself both as a "pacifist nation" and as a member of the Western camp to fulfill its responsibilities in international affairs.

Prime Minister Suzuki also won considerable international praise for a speech he made at the Second U.N. General Assembly special session on disarmament in which he brought attention to the tragic irony of the fact that military spending in many developed countries amounted on average to six percent of gross national product while at the same time people in many developing countries continued to struggle simply to survive in the midst of devastating famines and grinding poverty. He stressed the need "to reduce military expenditures so that human and material resources can be redirected into activities that instead help to alleviate social unrest and poverty." At the end of Suzuki's address, such a long line of representatives hoping to shake his hand had formed that the meeting's normal proceedings had to be temporarily suspended. This event was undoubtedly one of the highlights of Prime Minister Suzuki's distinguished career.

Yet another of the Suzuki administration's major initiatives designed to help Japan fulfill its international responsibilities was an extensive three-stage plan to promote greater economic openness. The primary objective of the plan was to expand the system of free trade by working to formulate effective responses to increasingly acrimonious international trade frictions and create more harmonious economic relationships with other countries. The first stage began in December of 1981 with the Suzuki administration's decision to move up by two years the implementation schedule for tariffs cuts which had initially been agreed to at the Tokyo Round (GATT) of international trade negotiations. Import levies on 1,653 items were lowered by an average of 10.4 percent. The second stage was carried out in January of 1982 when the government either removed or reduced tariffs on 47 agricultural items and 28 industrial items while at the same time simplifying import inspection procedures. The third and final stage in May of the same year included dramatic cuts in tariffs on 215 items, including 96 that had tariffs on them removed altogether. All of these changes were made under Prime Minister Suzuki's brave leadership. His expansive vision for Japan's role in international affairs is undoubtedly worthy of high praise.

However, no discussion of his administration's accomplishments would be complete without mention of Prime Minister Suzuki's determined and successful efforts to promote administrative and fiscal reform within Japan. Upon assuming the office of Prime Minister, Suzuki expressed his strong conviction that "if we do not push forward now with fundamental administrative reforms and fiscal restructuring, it will be impossible for us to establish a solid foundation for public administration in the 1980s." With this in mind, he moved quickly to create the Ad Hoc Commission on Administrative Reform (chaired by Toshio Doko) in March of 1981. In order to unite the government and the Party even further in their efforts to promote reforms, Prime Minister Suzuki also established the Government - Liberal Democratic Party Administrative Reform Promotion Headquarters (Seifu - Jiyu Minshuto Gyosei Kaikaku Suishin Honbu).

As it discussed administrative systems and management practices that would best improve the country's responses to international and domestic change, the Ad Hoc Commission regularly submitted official recommendations (on five separate occasions by March of 1983, with three reports going to the Suzuki Cabinet) to the government. After reviewing each of these with the utmost care, the government and the Party worked steadily to put them into practice.

The first set of recommendations issued in July of 1981 focused on the need to reduce the government's fiscal expenditures and rationalize its administrative system. During the 95th Extraordinary Session of the Diet held in the fall of the same year, the government responded to this by passing the "Special Measures Law Related to Administrative Reform" (Gyosei Kaikaku Kanren Tokurei-ho) consisting of 36 separate revisions to existing laws. The next set of recommendations produced in February of 1982 stressed the importance of streamlining licensing and approval procedures. At the 96th Ordinary Session of the Diet convened in the spring of that year, the government incorporated many of these into the "Law for the Simplification and Rationalization of Administrative Affairs" (Gyosei Jimu Kanso Gorika-ho) that contributed greatly to the steady progress it was making in promoting reform.

Prime Minister Suzuki also worked tirelessly to promote fiscal reconstruction. In spite of the many difficulties he faced in managing the government's finances, Prime Minister Suzuki committed himself to making every effort possible to achieve "fiscal reconstruction without tax increases" and to "end the government's dependency on deficit-covering bonds by the end of fiscal 1984." In the general account budget for 1981, issues of deficit-covering bonds were reduced by 2 trillion yen. This helped to reduce the size of the budget's expansion that year to 4.3 percent. In 1982, the compilation of an unprecedented "zero ceiling" budget and a reduction of government bond issues by 1.83 trillion yen further restricted the expansion of expenditures to a mere 1.8 percent. These budgets, the most austere in a quarter of a century, enabled the government to make substantial progress in restoring its fiscal health.

Despite Prime Minister Suzuki's dedicated efforts, however, the economy's disappointing performance in 1981 brought about a shortfall in tax revenues amounting to 6.1 trillion yen more than had originally been estimated. This unfortunately necessitated the issue of additional government bonds totaling 3.9 trillion yen (2.1 trillion less than had originally been estimated) to finance a supplementary budget for 1982. These developments in turn made it impossible to reach the goal, as had originally been hoped, of ending the government's dependence on deficit-bond financing by the close of 1984. However, the government's efforts to establish the principle of "fiscal reform through the reduction of expenditures" proved highly successful and paved the way for the compilation of a budget in 1983 with a "minus 5 percent ceiling" on expenditures.

Prime Minister Suzuki's efforts to establish "low cost government" went beyond those already mentioned. In August of 1982, he also successfully carried out long-standing plans to revise the Public Office Election Law and replace the national electoral district system for the House of Councillors with a proportional representation system.

When viewed in light of the fact that they were made during a historic period of transition filled with many hardships and challenges, Prime Minister Suzuki's accomplishments in foreign and domestic affairs are even more impressive. However, towards the end of his term, some individuals within the Party began to call for the preliminary selection of candidates for the LDP Presidential election. Concerned about the possibility that this might spark internecine conflict within the Party, Prime Minister made the decision to step down on October 12, 1982. In doing so he expressed his hope that this, his final official act as Party President, would facilitate the emergence of new leadership able to revitalize and unify the Party. Suzuki's graceful withdrawal from office, along with his ideology of "the politics of harmony," will long be remembered.

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