TOKYO, MAY 28 -- Former prime minister Yasuhiro Nakasone said today he will resign from the ruling party he led for five years to take responsibility for an influence-peddling scandal that has decimated the party's high command and plunged its approval rating to new lows. Nakasone, 71, also said he will relinquish control of his faction within the party and step down as senior advisor to the government. However, he said he will not give up his seat in parliament, as many critics have demanded. Nakasone's statement came three days after he testified under oath in the Diet, Japan's parliament, about his role in the Recruit Co. scandal, saying he had done nothing wrong. He had hoped the testimony would put the controversy behind him, but it has continued to fester, with newspaper editorials and many voters rejecting his explanations. The decision to leave the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is a significant fall for the man who, on retiring as prime minister 18 months ago, planned to play the role of power broker at home and elder statesman abroad. Nakasone served as prime minister from 1982 to 1987, and became perhaps the most internationally known Japanese politician in postwar history. In explaining his decision to leave the party today, Nakasone told a key member of his faction, "I feel deeply responsible that the Recruit scandal occurred during my tenure as prime minister," according to that colleague. Opposition politicians and even some members of the LDP, which has ruled Japan since 1955, said Nakasone's action was too limited to slake public anger or solve the LDP's problem. His resignation was seen in part as a maneuver to ease the way for Foreign Minister Sosuke Uno, a member of Nakasone's faction, to be named prime minister later this week. Uno is one of just a few senior LDP politicians who did not receive cut-rate stock from Recruit Co., an information and computer conglomerate that distributed millions of dollars in cash and stock to Japanese leaders during Nakasone's tenure. Tokyo prosecutors have alleged that Recruit had sought government favors in return for its largesse. The scandal, along with an unpopular new sales tax, forced Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita to announce that he will soon step down. But the LDP has been unable to find a successor untainted by Recruit and willing to accept the job. Uno had been thought an unlikely candidate because he is in Nakasone's LDP faction. But former premier Zenko Suzuki said today that Nakasone's resignation from the party might make Uno more palatable to voters. Other leaders said they doubted Nakasone had gone far enough. Party elder Toshio Komoto, reportedly said Nakasone had three choices: leave politics altogether, resign from the Diet, or quit the party. "Of the three, this is the lightest," Komoto said, according to Japan Broadcasting Co. news tonight. "It may be that public opinion will not be satisfied by this." It also remained to be seen whether the choice of Uno, 66, to replace Takeshita would satisfy a public clamoring for sweeping reform of Japan's "money-politics." Nakasone's limited resignation and the attempt by party elders to find a mainstream successor of their generation suggested that the LDP still hopes to weather its crisis without ceding power to a new generation of leaders, as some have demanded, or making serious reforms. But the weekend's developments also appeared to show that the party remains uncertain how to extricate itself from its greatest trouble ever.
Fred Hiatt Fred Hiatt is the editorial page editor of The Post. He writes editorials for the newspaper and a biweekly column that appears on Mondays. Previously he was a local reporter in Virginia, a national reporter covering national security and a foreign correspondent based in Tokyo and Moscow. Follow