Former Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka, 71, who held his seat in Parliament through the turmoil of being arrested and convicted of accepting a $1.8-million bribe and after suffering a stroke, announced Saturday through his adopted son-in-law that he is retiring from politics.
Naoki Tanaka, himself a member of Parliament, told Tanaka’s supporters in Niigata prefecture (state) that their mentor will not run in the next lower-house election.
Although the stroke in February, 1985, ended the one-time political kingmaker’s clout--not once has he appeared in public since--the retirement announcement stirred a flurry of comment from politicians and business leaders. The media treated the news in banner headlines, almost as if it were an obituary.
Admirers and critics both proclaimed it the end of an era in Japanese politics.
“Recalling his unparalleled dynamism, it makes me feel lonely,” said Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu, whose own mentor, the late Prime Minister Takeo Miki, permitted authorities to arrest Tanaka in 1976.
In the announcement, the politician once nicknamed “the computerized bulldozer” thanked his supporters for sending him to the lower house in 16 elections beginning in 1947, prayed for the continued development of “my beloved Niigata” and declared that his 42-year political career contained “not one regret.”
Although forced out of the prime minister’s post by accusations of illicit financial dealings in 1974 and stung by his arrest two years later in the Lockheed scandal, Tanaka built up the largest faction of members of Parliament that any leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party had ever amassed. At its peak, more than 140, or 18%, of the members of both houses of Parliament pledged their obedience to the man whose formal education ended with the 10th grade.
Remnants of the Tanaka faction, now led by former Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita, remain the main bloc of power in the ruling party today.
Tanaka’s retirement, ironically, creates an opportunity for the ruling party to gain a seat in the next election. He abandoned party membership after his arrest and is listed as an unaffiliated representative.
An appeal of his bribery conviction is pending before the Supreme Court.