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  • Sunday Tangent: DPJ submits bill to limit seshuu seijika (hereditary politicians)

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on June 7th, 2009

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    Hi Blog.  Here’s the best reason I can see for voting for (and urging your relatives to vote for) the opposition DPJ yet.  And no, it’s not a NJ issue.  It’s the issue of seshuu seijika (世襲政治家), or politicians with inherited Diet seats.

    In my view, inherited seats and political dynasties to this degree are the biggest reason we have so much rot in Japan’s democratic institutions:  gormless politicians who neither understand how the other (poorer) half of Japan lives, nor have any reason to rock the boat and institute any real reforms of the status quo — because they’re a political elite with their future estates sewn up for life.  

    For example, either way the next election swings, we’ll have Aso (grandson of former PM Yoshida Shigeru and son of a former Dietmember) or Hatoyama Yukio (grandson of former PM Hatoyama Ichiro and son of a former Dietmember too).  All thoroughbreds.  As have most PMs been in the past couple of decades.

    I talk more about this in the context of just how myopic Japan’s policymaking is in a Japan Times article back in December 2007.  It’s one of my best, so have a look.  Excerpt:

    Politicians are even further out of touch.  No wonder, considering they are effectively a peerage masquerading as an elected legislature.

    After the last election, 185 of 480 Diet members (39%) were second- or third- (or more) generation politicians (seshuu seijika).  Of 244 members of the LDP (the ruling party for practically all the postwar period), 126 (52%) are seshuu seijika.  Likewise eight of the last ten Prime Ministers, and around half the Abe and Fukuda Cabinets.  When the average turnover per election is only around 3%, you have what can only be termed a political class.

    Any political party willing to limit the powers of its own politicians is worth a second look.  So now read with the Japan Times has to say about it.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


    The Japan Times Tuesday, June 2, 2009
    DPJ submits bill to cut back on culture of hereditary politicians
    Staff writer
    The Democratic Party of Japan submitted a bill to the Lower HouseMonday aimed at cutting back on what many in the public believe is the unfair advantage enjoyed by so-called hereditary politicians.

    The revision proposed by the largest opposition party to the Political Funds Control Law would restrict relatives within three degrees of kinship — up to nieces or nephews — of retired or deceased Diet members from inheriting a seat and running in the same electoral district as their predecessor.

    One-third of ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers are said to have inherited their father’s or grandfather’s constituencies, as well as their campaign machines and political funding sources.

    Rest of the article at…


    The Japan Times, Saturday, May 30, 2009
    End of ‘hereditary lawmakers’?

    Those who “inherit” campaign machines, political funds and electoral districts from a close relative are dubbed “hereditary lawmakers.” While the practice has been going on for years, it now has become a red-hot issue.

    The Democratic Party of Japan has decided to adopt a party rule that will prohibit new candidates from running in future elections if they fit the definition of a hereditary politician. By adopting this rule, the party apparently wants to deflect criticism of the party and former party leader Mr. Ichiro Ozawa following the arrest of his chief aide in connection with alleged political donation irregularities.

    The DPJ’s move may have a positive effect on Japanese politics in the long run. According to Kyodo News, about 130 people who plan to run in the 300 single-seat constituencies in the coming Lower House election have parents or grandparents who were Diet members. About 110 of them have been elected from the same constituencies as their parents or grandparents — about 90 of them belong to the Liberal Democratic Party and about 20 are with the DPJ. Among them are Mr. Ozawa and former Prime Ministers Shinzo Abe and Yasuo Fukuda.

    Read the rest at:


    LDP puts off ban on hereditary candidates
    The Japan Times: Wednesday, June 3, 2009

    Kyodo News

    With only a few months remaining until the next Lower House election must be called, the Liberal Democratic Party has postponed a plan to restrict so-called hereditary candidates until after the campaign, party sources said Tuesday.

    The postponement comes amid speculation that Prime Minister Taro Aso may dissolve the Lower House in late June or early July and call a snap election in early or late August. The current term of Lower House members expires in September.

    The LDP apparently failed to forge a consensus among its members, many of whom are from well-established political families. Such a rule would prevent their kin from inheriting not only their electoral districts but also their support groups and fundraising machines.

    Because of their easy wins in elections, such hereditary politicians are often criticized for an inability to grasp voter sentiment or develop policies that connect with the public.

    The LDP has judged that excluding hereditary candidates, some of whom have already obtained informal endorsements as the party’s official candidates in the upcoming election, “would harm the LDP’s trustworthiness,” the sources said…

    Rest of the article at:



    7 Responses to “Sunday Tangent: DPJ submits bill to limit seshuu seijika (hereditary politicians)”

    1. matt at anarchyjapan (aka Matt Dioguardi)) Says:

      For what it’s worth, I certainly can appreciate the frustration anyone has with seeing seats inherited. I can point to some really notorious examples myself. I remember when Keizo Obuchi died in office, his 27 year old daughter came back from English lessons in London (or somewhere) to “assume” his post. She was elected without a contest despite her lack of experience.

      Nevertheless, I think this is addressing a symptom and not a disease. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a son or daughter following in the footsteps of their parent and getting elected through a democratic process. In fact, we can at least imagine a case where this is kind of … you know … honorable.

      Also, if a daughter or son is not available, I’m sure a near relative would do just fine in many of these cases we see in Japan now. Or some favorite “adopted” son.

      I think trying to understand why this process takes place would involve looking deeper at the process of getting elected in Japan, and then we would need to work to make improvements there. I doubt currently there is any political willing to do this.

      I think the DPJ are pushing for this now merely as strategy. They want to position themselves as a party of reform. I don’t see them as being ideologically driven. Again, from an ideological point of view, it seems *wrong* to penalize someone because of their parents. It’s … well .. discriminatory. :\

    2. Kimpatsu Says:

      These people aren’t thoroughbreds; they’re inbreds. And you now how that contaminates the gene pool…

    3. HO Says:

      “She was elected without a contest despite her lack of experience.”
      There were 4 candidates to one seat at the 5th district of Gumma, when she won for the first time in 2000. People here have real choices.

    4. David B Says:


      I can understand you points and agree to a large extent but disagree with the last comment “it seems *wrong* to penalize someone because of their parents. It’s … well .. discriminatory.”.

      If they were banned from running at all I would agree with your comment but from what I understand they are allowed to run provided they run in a different constituency. I think this puts them on more of a level footing with everyone else where they must organise their own supporters etc. They will still have the advantage of some name recognition.

    5. level3 Says:

      This problem is not unique to Japan (Kennedy, Gore, Bush etc. are just some glaring examples in the States.) Although perhaps the rate at which it occurs in Japan is higher than other countries?

      It’s a tough call, kind of like term limits for legislators. It seems like a good way to “clean up” the legislature of lifetime-politicans, insiders who know nothing of daily life of us mere commoners, and people who’ve never had a real job. But at the local scale (and “all politics is local”) many poeple think “Don’t kick out MY representative” especially if he/she brings home the bacon – wild overspending on unneeded projects that only benefit local construction companies and such.

      It’s also pretty clear that laws prohibiting people to run for office because of blood ties is unconstitutional (in Japan and the US, at least) and a constitutional amendment would be necessary. But I think a lot of people on the left AND right could unite on this issue, except their established leaders in the political parties won’t listen.

      The ideal, quick solution would be political parties voluntarily prohibiting members from running based on family ties, but since people just keep voting for legacy politicans (Why?! Zombie voters? Or just an almost insurmountable advantage for insiders in the current fundraising-election process) who can blame the parties for never enacting such schemes? (just as the LDP, very very predictably, has decided not to enact the theirs)

      Side note: In Japan how is voting actually done? Do you have to actually write the name on the ballot? It certainly would explain how name-recognition would be very advantageous, especially if the voter population is elderly and/or forgetful.

      Another possible solution is being more strict on residency requirements. Not letting Senator Suzuki’s son run for office in the deep inaka if he’s lived in Tokyo for the past 15 years. Nor letting basically anyone from anywhere become a representative of a place like, say…New York state, even though he/she lived most of his/her life in say…Massachusetts… or Arkansas.

      — On ballots, you must physically write the name of the candidate (or of the party with PR) on the ballot. Name recognition matters.

    6. George Says:

      Term limits are for countries that are paranoid about individuals seizing power. They also ensure that for the last for years of their tenure, politicians really don’t care one iota about the lot of the people who elect them. I’ve also always thought that parliamentary systems in general are more democratically robust than presidential ones like the United States. If democracy is more about the ability to get rid of your leaders than having the right to elect them (and it is), then a system that allows a body of legislators responsible to the people to throw the head of government out relatively easily is way more democratic than one that only lets the people have a say in the leadership of the executive every four years.

      Anyway, to the matter at hand…

      “I think trying to understand why this process takes place would involve looking deeper at the process of getting elected in Japan, and then we would need to work to make improvements there. I doubt currently there is any political willing to do this.”

      Yes indeedy, and anyone who thinks that a simple ban on inherited seats will make a difference is gravely mistaken. The reason inherited politicians exist is because of the prevalence of “support groups” (koenkai) affiliated with individuals rather than their parties. These groups exist for a number of reasons:

      Firstly, individual Japanese politicians face complex restrictions on how they can advertize. In order to circumvent the electoral advertizing laws they rely on vast networks of volunteers and business connections (did anyone say Nishimatsu?) to get the word out.

      Secondly, in the old days, these networks also helped coordinate the vote in multi-member districts, where voting too much for one guy would disadvantage his party colleague running in the same district. Now that the electoral system has been reformed, the groups still come in handy for soliciting those who may “split” their votes; that is, vote for a candidate in their district who comes from a different party than that which they voted for with their party vote. Support groups, which are unaffiliated with the party, allow politicians to solicit district votes from non-party members more effectively.

      Thirdly, Dietmembers receive limited party assistance to conduct their campaigns, especially when they are running as independents, which many prospective LDP members do initially, in order to prove their electoral worth to the party. Support groups equal (often illegal) funding. (Nishimatsu, anyone?)

      Anyway, to cut a long story short, once these “support groups” are established, Dietmembers can pass them off to their chosen successor, usually a family member, at retirement. If you just ban family members from running in the same district as their dads and uncles, one of two things will happen:

      1. Groups of Dietmembers will all decide to retire at the same time and there will be a mass musical-chairs your-son-can-take-my-district-(and-support-group)-if-my-son-can-take-your-district-(and-support-group) swap off


      2. Dietmembers will just retire and give their districts and support groups to their equally inept younger friends. A git who is someone’s friend is just as bad as a git who is someone’s son.

      So the answer lies in either banning these groups outright, making individual support groups accountable to the central party bureaucracy (and therefore subject to restrictions on party spending), relaxing the regulations on advertising, or a combination of these measures.

      Banning people from running just because “Uncle Taro” was a Dietmember in the same district is undemocratic and won’t solve the problem here anyway.

    7. matt at anarchyjapan Says:

      “She was elected without a contest despite her lack of experience.”
      There were 4 candidates to one seat at the 5th district of Gumma, when she won for the first time in 2000. People here have real choices.

      Okay, just for the record. Obuchi technically didn’t die in office — he slipped into a coma, and his daughter did run against three competitors. She won with nearly 70% of the vote. So technically it was a contest but not much of one. (Search google for “第44回衆議院議員選挙 >群馬県 >群馬5区”)

      George’s comments certainly make a lot of sense to me.

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