Senior politician Masayoshi Ito Friday officially refused a ruling party request that he take over as prime minister to restore confidence in the government following an influence-peddling scandal, party officials said.
Leaders of the Liberal Democratic Party had wanted the reform-minded Ito, one of a handful of experienced leaders untainted by the scandal, to replace Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita to help improve the party's image ahead of elections this summer for half the seats in Parliament's upper house.But Ito conveyed a formal refusal to Takeshita at noon, said the party officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Ito's refusal forces the Liberal Democrats to renew their search for a successor for Takeshita, who has promised to resign to take responsibility for a decline in public trust in government over the scandal.
The 75-year-old Ito, a diabetic, repeatedly had said he was not interested in becoming party president, and thus prime minister, citing his age and poor health.
Takeshita, who has admitted receiving more than $1.11 million in donations from the Recruit Co., an information services conglomerate, announced April 25 he would resign to take responsibility for public outrage over the scandal.
Three of his Cabinet ministers have resigned over the scandal and 14 businessmen and ex-bureaucrats have been arrested on bribery or other charges in connection with sales of unlisted, bargain-priced shares in a Recruit subsidiary.
Ito, the former foreign minister, had been thought to be holding out for promises of major political reforms, including the resignations of all politicians linked to the scandal, and had been expected to accept if satisfactory arrangements were worked out.
On Thursday, Takeshita wined and dined Ito as the party sought to persuade him to take over the job.
After his dinner meeting with Takeshita late Thursday, however, Ito said he had not changed his mind about his reluctance to fill the government's top post.
Ito said his talks with Takeshita had centered on reform of the party, whose popular support has been severely eroded by the so-called Recruit scandal.
"Revolutionary changes in the party's way of thinking are needed," Ito said.