Koichi Kato (LDP)
After graduating from the University of Tokyo he joined the Foreign ministry in 1963, which led to stints at the Japanese embassies in Taipei and Washington, D.C.. In 1967 he completed a Master's degree at Harvard University. After continuing his foreign service career in Hong Kong he returned to Japan as an aide in the China Affairs Bureau of the Foreign Ministry. His experience in foreign affairs resulted in fluent English and Chinese, and he remains deeply interested in relations with China.
Kato was first elected to the Diet in 1972, representing his native Yamagata and has represented that area continuously except for a brief forced resignation due to scandal in 2002. He was aligned with the Kōchikai (then called Ōhira) faction of the LDP, which produced three Japanese Prime Ministers; Masayoshi Ōhira, Zenkō Suzuki, and Kiichi Miyazawa. The power of this faction provided Kato ample opportunity for promotion, and he served in several Cabinet Positions through the 1980s and early 90s. In 1992, he was elected Secretary-General of the LDP, a time when the traditional dominance of the party was being challenged.
YKK and the 2000 leadership challenge
Always seen as something of a maverick, during the Kaifu administration Kato formed a relationship with two other young LDP reformers, Taku Yamasaki and Jun'ichirō Koizumi. The three together became known as YKK after the initials of their last names. Originally the trio had agreed to sway their factions towards the new generation of LDP leaders, and marginalize the old guard within the Diet. With the election of Miyazawa (then leader of Kato's own faction) in 1991, YKK gained greater prestige and power within the party. From the Miyazawa era onwards, YKK represented the power base of the anti-mainstream faction in the LDP. All three leaders made repeated tilts at the party leadership in the 1990s, but were unsuccessful. In 1998 Kato assumed leadership of the Kochikai Faction, taking over from Miyazawa.
Upon the sudden illness and death of Keizō Obuchi in May 2000, Kato did not make a leadership challenge, believing that internal strife would not be healthy for a party in mourning. By November, however, displeased with the slow pace of reform and poor public image in the Mori administration, Kato made his move. After consulting with the opposition parties, Kato realized that with support of his and Yamasaki's factions, a vote of no-confidence in Mori would pass in the Diet. Initial public reaction to Kato's announcement of this vote was good, with Mori's approval ratings diving to 30%. Unfortunately for Kato, the LDP Secretary-General at this time, Hiromu Nonaka, was a strong supporter of Mori. Nonaka launched a harsh round of party discipline, threatening to expel any LDP members that voted against Mori.
Nonaka's threats had the desired effect: even within his own faction Kato's support dried up. Knowing that he could not win, Kato and his remaining supporters abstained from the no-confidence vote as a face-saving measure. The damage had been done, however. Kato and Yamasaki were left to bear the full brunt of public humiliation. The aftermath of Kato's rebellion was disastrous. A large segment of his faction split off, weakening his influence in the Diet. Public opinion that had initially supported ousting Mori now blamed Kato for his failure. The opposition parties were frustrated with his unwillingness to break from the LDP. Both Kato and Yamasaki had been considered candidates for Prime Minister, but with the loss of prestige resulting from the Mori affair, they had lost their chance.
With Nonaka's resignation shortly after Kato's rebellion, the path was clear for someone to replace Mori. Jun'ichirō Koizumi, the only member of YKK undamaged by the events of November 2001, finally gained control of the LDP. While Kato and Yamasaki had failed, the reformist, anti-mainstream ideals of YKK had finally moved to the forefront of Japanese politics, providing validation for Kato and his views.
Kato and Ichirō Ozawa
Kato has had a sometimes difficult relationship with fellow reformer Ichirō Ozawa. Ozawa had been a strong advocate for reform within the mainstream Tanaka/Takeshita faction, but he had chosen to split from the party in 1993 and form the Japan Renewal Party, rather than continue within the LDP. This was seen as a serious betrayal by many, including Kato. It is interesting to note that when Kato was in a similar position in 2000, he chose party loyalty, despite his chances of considerable influence in the opposition had he crossed over. When the LDP was considering a merger with Ozawa's Liberal Party in the late 90s, Kato was strongly opposed to bringing Ozawa back to the LDP fold. Ozawa and Kato are often portrayed as arch-nemeses, despite their very similar views on economic and political reform (in foreign policy Kato is somewhat less hawkish than Ozawa, advocating a more cautious international role for Japan).
Like many Japanese politicians, Kato has been involved in several scandals. He was implicated in the Recruit scandal in the late 1980s, tarnishing his reputation for several years. In 2002 he was the centre of a major scandal involving tax evasion, bribery and misuse of political funds. His secretary Saburo Sato had been charging a "Kato Consumption Tax" to companies wanting access to Kato while seeking public contracts. Sato had also failed to declare ￥100 million in taxes. While Kato denied any knowledge of the affair, few believed that such widespread corruption could have occurred in his office without his approval. It was later revealed that he had been using funds earmarked for political use to pay the rent on his Tokyo apartment. Faced with this evidence, Kato acquiesced to demands for his resignation. In November 2003 he made his return to the Diet, having retreated from politics long enough for the scandal to die down.
In mid-August, 2006, Kato's adjoining house and office burned to the ground on the anniversary of Japan's defeat in WWII. The attack was confirmed as Arson and the lead suspect was expected to be charged some time in September 2006 .
|Chief Cabinet Secretary of Japan