The elders of Japan's Liberal Democratic Party today failed in a bid to select a compromise candidate to succeed Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki, opening the way for potentially devisive primary elections for a new party president, a post which carries with it the premiership.
The final breakdown in talks among top party bosses came after a marathon 13-hour bargaining session which ended early this morning at LDP headquarters in Tokyo. It capped 10 days of efforts to single out a successor to Suzuki from among leaders of the party's key factions and avoid a mud-slinging primary campaign political analysts here expect will now ensue. Suzuki stunned the nation early last week by abruptly announcing that he planned to resign.
Four veteran politicians--Yasuhiro Nakasone, 64, Toshio Komoto, 71, Shintaro Abe, 58, and Ichiro Nakagawa, 57 -- last Saturday officially registered as candidates for the primaries. They were ordered by party elders, however, to refrain from electioneering for one week in a bid to buy time to strike a compromise.
With the failure of talks today, the primaries will now go into full swing with the LDP's 1 million members nationwide casting their votes by mail. The primary ballots will be counted Nov. 24. A new party leader will then be selected the following day by LDP members in the Diet, the Japanese parliament, from among the three top finalists.
Efforts to break the deadlock apparently reached the point of no return early today when party bosses failed to agree on a controversial proposal for an 11th hour compromise solution. It outlined a plan to split the party presidency and the premiership between two top contenders, a move which political analysts said would have been the first such division of the top party and government posts in the postwar period.
According to the formula, Nakasone, who has been considered the odds-on favorite to step into Suzuki's shoes, would have become prime minister, with ex-premier Takeo Fukuda taking over as LDP president. Komoto was slated to become both deputy prime minister and finance minister, the most prestigious cabinet level job.
The idea was intended to achieve an acceptable balance among key party factions that would allow the LDP to paper over its bruising internecine struggles for power. The pro-Suzuki forces led by former Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka, who controls the party's largest faction, gave their early support to Nakasone's candidacy. Nakasone, however, was strongly opposed by Fukuda, who rules the anti-Suzuki camp to which Komoto, Abe and Nakagua belong.
The designation of Nakasone as prime minister would, at least in theory, have satisfied the Suzuki-Tanaka party group. The appointment of Fukuda as LDP president was intended to appeal to those who support his aim of reforming the party.
Tanaka and Fukuda have been bitter foes over the years. And critics in the Fukuda camp have castigated Tanaka for his alleged role as a shadowy kingmaker who has traded on his ties with the country's big business establishment. Tanaka is now on trial in the Lockheed bribary scandal and was forced to give up official LDP membership because of his involvement in the case.
Old party bosses, who belong to Japan's wartime generation, still ostensibly rule the roost in the business-oriented, pro-American LDP. Their failure to ease the current mood of open politcal conflict, however, could help accelerate a shift in power to a new generation of younger LDP diet members. These men have become critical of the old-boy network which they view as having kept them from rising quickly enough in the party.