PRIME Minister Toshiki Kaifu of Japan has been politically weakened by the resignation of Ichiro Ozawa, his closest supporter in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Mr. Ozawa, who ran day-to-day LDP affairs as secretary general, resigned yesterday after taking responsibility for the loss of the LDP candidate in Sunday's race for governor of Tokyo.
The Tokyo election campaign had split the LDP after Ozawa tried to prevent incumbent Gov. Shunichi Suzuki from running. But Mr. Suzuki ran as an independent with support from much of the LDP anyway, and beat the official LDP candidate, Hisanori Isomura, with 2,292,846 votes against Mr. Isomura's 1,437,233.
Ozawa's resignation may help end a feud between the LDP's two most powerful figures, Shin Kanemaru and former prime minister Noburo Takeshita, some analysts say. Ozawa had been close to Mr. Kanemaru, who made several political mistakes recently and saw his power decline.
Mr. Takeshita's right-hand man, Keizo Obuchi, was named to replace Ozawa. A former chief Cabinet secretary, Mr. Obuchi is regarded as a gentle leader who followed his father into politics and was elected to parliament 10 times. He was part of a new generation of postwar politicians elected in 1963. He ran the funeral for the late Emperor Hirohito and had been organizing the official reception for next week's visit by Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.
Ozawa's political demise has boosted prospects that Takeshita might seek to become prime minister again. He was forced to resign in 1989 because of a corruption scandal. Mr. Kaifu was later installed as a compromise leader with little power base of his own within the party.
Some party members speculate the loss of Ozawa might lead to Kaifu being ousted sooner than next October, when his term ends. The prime minister reportedly pleaded with Ozawa not to resign.
The Tokyo governor's race was just one of many local elections held April 7, with other races scheduled for April 20.