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Sunday, 14 May, 2000, 09:04 GMT 10:04 UK
Obituary: Keizo Obuchi

Mr Obuchi (left) addresses his cabinet after Mt Usu erupts
Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, who has died aged 62 after suffering a stroke, was the archetypal old-school Japanese politician.

Mr Obuchi became prime minister in July 1998, after he was elected leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

A good-natured and unassuming man, he had a reputation as a sharp negotiator and consensus builder.

But Mr Obuchi was not considered a natural leader, and his bland image and cautious style earned him the nickname Mr Ordinary.

In the run-up to the last election, some remarked that his best qualification for the party's top spot was the fact that he had never offended anyone.

Tough job

When Mr Obuchi took over, he inherited one of the toughest jobs in politics - hauling the world's second largest economy out of its worst post-war recession.

His response was to unveil the country's biggest ever stimulus package, which included a massive boost to public spending and income tax cuts.

One of his government's more novel ideas was to give shopping coupons to 35 million citizens in the hope it would spark a consumer boom.

Initial signs of recovery have been promising, but Mr Obuchi's illness came as the economy threatened to slide back into recession.

Hand-picked

The softly-spoken Mr Obuchi became the youngest person to win election to parliament when he stood in his late father's district north of Tokyo, as a 26-year-old postgraduate student.

He held the seat for decades, and in 1993 was hand-picked by senior LDP officials to become the party's secretary-general, a key post controlling election campaigns and party funds.

In 1997, he received the Foreign Ministry portfolio in Ryutaro Hashimoto's cabinet due to the fact that he led the LDP's largest faction.

He stepped into Mr Hashimoto's shoes after the latter resigned following the party's disastrous showing in the 1998 elections for the upper house of parliament.

Gruelling schedule

Mr Obuchi, 62, has a son and two daughters, one of whom is studying in Britain. He was a devotee of the Japanese martial art of aikido and enjoyed golf and amateur radio.

"I know what people say about me," Mr Obuchi once said. "I am said to be very, very ordinary. I am said to be mild and good in nature ...

"But I want you to understand that I am a man who does what should be done."

In the run-up to his illness he had a punishing schedule.

He was taken ill after dealing with a political crisis as his coalition with the Liberal Party fell apart.

On top of that, he had been overseeing the government's handling of the eruption of the volcano on Hokkaido island.

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See also:

04 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Japanese government resigns
03 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Japanese PM in coma
03 Apr 00 | Business
Japan's economy shakes off worries
24 Jul 98 | Asia-Pacific
Obuchi wins Japan's leadership election
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