TOKYO — Four years ago, many political analysts predicted that Yasuhiro Nakasone would not last a year as prime minister of Japan, but on Thursday his Liberal Democratic Party extended his term as party leader--and in the process enabled him to serve a fifth year as prime minister.
By tradition, the head of the ruling party is also prime minister, and the party decided to retain Nakasone as head of the party until Oct. 30, 1987.
Under the party's rules, the leader has been limited to two terms of two years each, and Nakasone's second term was to end Oct. 30. To get around this, the rules were amended by acclamation at a party caucus attended by 422 of the party's 451 members of Parliament to allow the caucus, by a two-thirds vote, to extend the limit up to a year.
The caucus then approved a proposal by Secretary General Noboru Takeshita to ask Nakasone to stay on for an additional year in the wake of the party's landslide election victory on July 6.
Leaders of the party's major factions agreed last week that the amendment would be interpreted as ruling out a second extension, but some political analysts said that yet another rules change next year is possible if Nakasone's popularity remains as high as it is now.
Deputy Prime Minister Shin Kanemaru and other party leaders have said they expect Nakasone to step down next summer.
Nakasone had hoped to be given an extension of unspecified duration, to give him the prestige he says he needs to deal with foreign leaders. Thursday's step denied him this, but it assured him of serving longer than all but two of Japan's 17 post-World War II prime ministers.
When Nakasone took office in November, 1982, opinion polls showed his public approval rating at only about 37%. He has since become the first Japanese prime minister to build a popular power base. Others have depended on factions within the party structure.
Nakasone's party faction ranks fourth in size, but the polls put his support with the voters at 68%. He has shown an unusual sophistication in diplomacy, which has appealed to Japanese pride, and has championed reforms at home.
Extension of his term will give Nakasone a chance to carry out his promise to turn Japan's economy around, with more emphasis on domestic growth and less on exports.
But Japan's rising trade surplus with the United States, which is expected to exceed $60 billion this year, threatens to bring him into conflict with the United States.
Nakasone told the caucus he will give priority to attempts to ease economic friction with foreign countries. He also said he wants "to work for the country and for the party as long as I have strength to do so."
The caucus was timed to coincide with the opening of a special 80-day session of Parliament that Nakasone convened to enact a supplementary budget and pass bills providing for the breakup and privatization of the debt-ridden Japan National Railways system.