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Prime Minister of Japan, 1978-1980
Masayoshi Ohira was born on a farm on the island of Shikoku on March 12, 1910. He was an impoverished youth of 16 when his father died, but an older brother helped him make it through high school, and then he worked his way through what is now Hitotsubashi University.
Ohira's government career began when he joined the Finance Ministry in 1936. His work there eventually caught the attention of Hayato Ikeda, who, upon becoming Finance Minister in 1949, made Ohira his private secretary. First elected to the Diet in 1952, Ohira ultimately held his seat for 10 terms.
When Hayato Ikeda became Prime Minister in July 1960, Ohira became his chief Cabinet secretary, and it was he who suggested the "low posture" policies toward the leftist opposition, which restored the nation to stability after the anti-American confusion of the late-1950's. As Foreign Minister in the second Ikeda cabinet (July 18, 1962 to July 18, 1964), Ohira prepared the way for restoration of relations with South Korea.
Ohira again served as Foreign Minister under Kakuei Tanaka (July 7, 1972 to July 16, 1974), and during this term he was the co-architect of normalization of relations with the People's Republic of China. In a Cabinet reshuffle, he replaced Takeo Fukuda as Finance Minister and Toshio Kimura became Foreign Minister. He continued as Finance Minister under Tanaka until December 24, 1976.
On November 27, 1978, Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda unexpectedly lost the first round of an election for leadership of the ruling Liberal-Democratic Party (LDP) to Ohira, by then the party's secretary-general. Fukuda withdrew as a candidate in the runoff election, thereby handing Ohira the party presidency and the office of Prime Minister, which he officially assumed on December 7. Ohira, who had campaigned vigorously, had the backing of former Prime Ministers Kakuei Tanaka and Takeo Miki. A few days after taking office, Ohira was attacked by a knife-wielding right-wing youth as he left his official residence, but was not injured.
In the general election of 1979, the LDP narrowly failed to win an outright majority, but enough independent members of the Diet joined the party to enable Ohira to remain in office, and he was reappointed Prime Minister on November 9. On May 16, 1980, the Diet passed a vote of no confidence by a 243-to-187 margin, with 69 members of the LDP abstaining. Given the choice of resigning or calling new elections, Ohira chose the latter and began campaigning for LDP candidates. He was hospitalized for exhaustion on May 31, and died of a massive heart attack on June 12.
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