Suzuki: giving Japan the Boy Scout spirit

Zenko Suzuki, whose first name is a homonym of good deeds, must now try to foster a little Boy Scout spirit among Japan's squabbling politicians. The short, stout son of a fisherman was chosen president of the country's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) July 15 and now faces the task of trying to shepherd the party's feuding factions into line.

"I am going to pursue a politics of harmony," Mr. Suzuki told a press conference immediately after his appointment. "I want to create a structure in which all party members can show their talents."

He is expected to be elected prime minister July 17 when the Diet (parliament) convenes. His party appointment ends a two-month hiatus in leadership prompted by the parliament's unexpected no-confidence vote against the late Prime Minister Masayoshi Ohira.

Mr. Suzuki hails from the town of Yamada in northern Japan, where his forebears ran a small fishing fleet. (His own parents were processors of marine products). In times of famine, the Suzuki fleet brought unhulled rice from the fertile Sendai plain to feed their starving neighbors. Mr. Suzuki's parents are said to have given their eldest son the name Zenko, literally meaning "good and fortunate," in the hope that he would emulate the good deeds of his ancestors.

Be that as it may, modest, sincere, mellow, herd-working -- these seem to be the adjectives most frequently used to describe Mr. Suzuki by friends and acquaintances.

If "Zenko who?" was the reaction not only of foreign embassies but of many Japanese themselves to the news that Mr. Suzuki will be the next prime minister, this is largely because he has chosen to operate in the inner councils of the party rather than in flamboyant Cabinet posts.

The state reception for foreign dignitaries at the July 9 memorial service for Mr. Suzuki's close friend, Prime minister Ohira, was also Mr. Suzuki's international coming-out party. Within a couple of hours the prime minister-to-be had met a whole procession of government chiefs including President Carter and Chinese Premier Hua Guofeng. Affable, modest, but forthright, Mr. Suzuki pledged to continue the international and domestic policies of his predecessor while a Foreign Office bureaucrat stood solicitously at his elbow.

In his youth, Mr. Suzuki is said to have been influenced by the writings of the Christian evangelist and social worker Toyohiko Kagawa, just as his friend Mr. Ohira was. Unlike Mr. Ohira, Mr. Suzuki did not become a Christian. He is said, however, to have had a strong sense of duty to society and was at first attracted by socialism. When he ran for the Diet for the first time in 1947, he ran as a Socialist.

But when the fishermen he represented said they needed a member of parliament with direct governmental connections, he heeded their pleas and switched to the Liberals (later the Liberal Democrats) in the 1949 election. He has, however, retained good relations with several of his socialist colleagues of those days.

Mr. Suzuki's broad, mobile face can register samurai impassivity at one moment and crease into a Buddhalike smile the next. He is stocky but keeps trim through swimming and kendo (Japanese fencing). He is also good at golf (handicap 14) and go, an intricate Sino-Japanese game played with black and white stones, the object of which is to encircle one's opponent.

Mr. Suzuki attended what is now the Tokyo University of Fisheries and was an officer of a regional fisheries cooperative when he decided to enter politics, urged on by his mother. HE has kept up his fishing connections and expanded them into the international field. While agriculture and forestry minister in the Fukuda Cabinet (1976 to 1978) he engaged in marathon fishing negotiations with his counterpart in Moscow, finally coming home with an agreement he thought Japanese fishermen could live with. He is not, therefore, a total stranger to the world of international negotiations.

Nevertheless, foreign policy is probably the one area where Mr. Suzuki has had the least experience, and where he will have to rely most heavily on the advice of experts. Mr. Suzuki's first Cabinet post was as minister of posts and telecommunications in the Hayato Ikeda Cabinet (1960 to 1964).

Toward the end of the Ikeda Cabinet, he became chief Cabinet secretary, a job analogous to that of chief of staff. In this position he had to handle the delicate situation caused by Mr. Ikeda's illness and eventual resignation.

Mr. Suzuki is known as a reconciler of differing viewpoints. He has filled a number of Cabinet posts, but for the most part his political expertise has been exercised within the Liberal Democratic Party, where he has served nine terms as chairman of the Executive Council.

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