TOKYO – Some of Japan’s veteran lawmakers retired when the Diet was dissolved on Oct 14 to pave the way for fresh blood ahead of Sunday’s (Oct 31) general election.
But voters in at least three constituencies will have a sense of deja vu because the fresh faces bear familiar names.
Political dynasties, where politicians inherit a constituency directly or have parents or grandparents who were former lawmakers, are a bedrock of Japanese politics – particularly within the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
While this is not unique to Japan, experts have pointed to how the trend appears to be more prevalent in the country than elsewhere.
Nearly a third of the 336 LDP candidates in Sunday’s election are hereditary politicians, a Kyodo News tally showed.
They stand to benefit from three main criteria that will give them better odds for winning: a well-oiled political machine such as a local advocacy group (jiban), a well-known family name (kanban), and a war chest filled with money as well as resources (kaban).
Many of these hereditary politicians are among the current party leaders. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s father Fumitake Kishida and grandfather Masaki Kishida were both Lower House lawmakers from their ancestral home in Hiroshima.
LDP General Council chief Tatsuo Fukuda, 54, is the son of Mr Yasuo Fukuda who was prime minister from 2007 to 2008. His grandfather is Mr Takeo Fukuda, who was prime minister from 1976 to 1978.
Others, including former prime minister Shinzo Abe, former vaccination minister Taro Kono, and former environment minister Shinjiro Koizumi, are also political blue bloods.
Among the new faces is Mr Susumu Yamaguchi, 38, the second son of LDP heavyweight Taimei Yamaguchi, 72, who is stepping aside in his Saitama 10th district seat, which he held from 1996 to 2009 and from 2012 onwards.
The younger Mr Yamaguchi acknowledged the work of his father over the decades, as he vowed to “take over” his policies.
The LDP’s Saitama prefectural chapter denied any favouritism, stressing that the younger Mr Yamaguchi was selected on merit to run for the seat in a strict interview process that involved 24 candidates.
In Ehime, former chief Cabinet secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki, 70, is calling time on a three-decade political career in his home town. His lawyer son Akihisa Shiozaki, 45, is contesting the seat.
And in Mie in central Japan, former labour minister Jiro Kawasaki, 73, is being replaced by his son, Mr Hideto Kawasaki, 39, in a seat he has held since the 1980s.
A fourth hereditary politician, however, will have to overcome a bigger obstacle if he wants to take over his father’s seat. Mr Kenichi Kawamura, the son of former chief Cabinet secretary Takeo Kawamura, 78, has been placed on the proportional representation list for a region north of Tokyo, to which he has little connection.
The elder Mr Kawamura’s Yamaguchi third district seat has been allotted to former education minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, 60, a close ally of Prime Minister Kishida.