An ''ex-premier's war'' is being waged in Japan to choose a successor to Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki, who suddenly announced his resignation Oct. 12.
Three former prime ministers, Takeo Fukuda, Takeo Miki, and Nobusuke Kishi, found common ground in opposing the incumbent due to his backing from another former prime minister, Kakuei Tanaka.
They were critical of the fact that Mr. Tanaka could still exert enormous influence within the dominant Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) despite having resigned in 1974 in a financial scandal and currently being on trial accused of accepting a bribe from the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation.
If a Nov. 25 election is held in Japan to produce a successor to Mr. Suzuki, it will likely become a no-holds-barred fight between foes and friends of former Prime Minister Tanaka, who has been out of office for eight years.
To avoid this, elders in the LDP will engage in closed door horse-trading to try to gain unity behind a single candidate. In the tradition of Japanese politics, this might mean one man agreeing to support another on the understanding that the former becomes heir apparent.
As seen by many, the front-runner candidate is the ambitious and hawkish Yasuhiro Nakasone, who has held top posts in transport, defense, and international trade and now runs the department involved in administrative reform.
The business world would prefer one of their own, highly respected Toshio Komoto, director general of the Economic Planning Agency. Komoto has sharply differed with Suzuki in recent months on ways to escape the current economic crisis, preferring full blast reflationary measures while Suzuki favored a more cautious approach to solving the government's lack of cash.
Another prime candidate is Shintaro Abe, minister of international trade and industry. He has impeccable political credentials, being the righthand man of former Premier Fukuda and son-in-law of Kishi.
Leaders of the pro-big-business party which has ruled Japan throughout most of the postwar era have agreed to choose a successor ''through negotiations'' by Oct. 16, hoping to eliminate the need for a divisive election.
The LDP could surprise everyone with an outside compromise candidate again. But both previous experiments along these lines failed to achieve the required party unity, and the state of the Japanese economy would seem to dictate the election of a ''front-line'' candidate this time.
Suzuki's announcement came as an unexpected about-face. His rating in public opinion polls was extremely low. In recent days he has appeared certain of reelection as LDP president based on the number of Diet (parliament) votes of which he was assured. Mr. Suzuki decided not to seek reelection next month as president of the LDP to avert the crippling power struggle that was looming on the horizon.