A political tactician has emerged from the back rooms of Japanese politics to become the most likely candidate to succeed the late prime minister Masayoshi Ohira.
Zenko Suzuki, 69, a long-time official of the Liberal Democratic Party, appears to have the factional support within the party to be chosen prime minister by his colleagues next week, according to political sources.
A product of internal party politics, Suzuki is not well known to the general public and his emergence in the past week is due more than anything else to backstage maneuvering by several party leaders.
He is regarded as an expert in political tactics, and his views on important policy matters are not widely knonw. Several political observers today said he is expected to follow the policies established by Ohira, whose large party faction he inherited.
Suzuki is chairman of the party's executive council, and his principal reputation is that of a mediator who worked to smooth over political differences.
Suzuki's support from a growing number a party leaders will apparently head off the expected power struggle among other candidates who had intended to succeed Ohira. If the present inclination of party elders is followed, Suzuki will be chosen informally by consensus and then his name will be submitted as the approved candidate when the parliament convenes to choose Ohira's successor sometime next week.
Ohira died June 12 from a heart attack, 10 days before a crucial parliamentary election which his party won by a large majority.
The factional maneuvering began immediately, with two of the party's less prominent figures, Yasuhiro Nakasone and Toshio Komoto, stepping forth as the most likely candidates to succeed Ohira.
Neither of them proved to be very popular with Liberal Democratic members in parliament, who choose the prime minister since they have the majority in the lower house, Nakasone is unpopular because of a reputation as an opportunist, and although he seemed to have the endorsement of former prime ministed Kakuei Tanaka, his campaign never got off the ground.
Komoto has never been a strong figure within the party, and many opposed him because he had failed to vote against a nonconfidence motion that wrecked the Ohira government in May.
According to one of his close friends, Suzuki at first had no intention of succeeding Ohira. He was chosen to lead the faction primarily because its members wanted a unifying figure who could preserve its soldarity in the post-Ohira era.
Party elders begin urging other factional leaders to get behind Suzuki. A key switch came late last week when a leader of Tanaka's faction approached Suzuki and suggested he become a candidate. Tanaka had favored Nakasone, but other members of his faction objected and Tanaka reportedly signaled that he would not object to a suzuki candidacy.
To the amazement of some politicians, one of Tanaka's most bitter enemies, former prime minister Takeo Fukuda, was reported to have given his approval to Suzuki over the weekend.The party's three largest factions now support him and neither Komoto nor Nakasane would be likely to muster the votes to defeat him.
Suzuki also appears to be acceptable to big business, which supports the Liberal Democratic Party with large financial contributions and which had pressed the party to bury its bickerings and choose and aggreeable candidate.
The present plan calls for naming Suzuki to serve out Ohira's term and serve two years of his own term beginning in December.
The backstage selection of a prime minister whose views are hardly known to the public has aroused a measure of criticism in Japanese newspaper. The Yomiuri newspaper observed that none of the candidates spelled out a policy and commented, "If our next leader is to be chosen on the basis of a consensus among the faction leaders, then he is nothing more than a robot."
Suzuki was born in February 1911, in a fishing village in Iwate prefecture on the northern portion of the central Japanese island of Honshu. He first entered politics as a socialist but soon joined the conservative mainstream which became the Liberal Democratic Party in 1955.
He has been chairman of the party's executive council for a total of nine terms under three different prime ministers and party leaders and was for a brief time chief Cabinet secretary to prime minister Hayato Ikeda.
If he is successful, Suzuki will become premier without ever having headed a principal ministry, though he has served as minister of health and welfare and also of agriculture and forestries.
Suzuki is described by associates as an amiable man and skillful moderator who generally has left policy matters to others. His record in foreign affairs is negligible but friends say he supported initiatives taken by his factional leader, Ohira.