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The new face of Koizumi

August 17, 2009

One in five politicians in the Japanese parliament is the child or grandchild of a politician, reinforcing a longstanding practice of influential political families handing power down to the next generation.

JAPAN-ELECTION/DYNASTY

But voter criticism has been mounting ahead of the Aug. 30 election — especially in Yokosuka, a port city southwest of Tokyo, where former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has passed his seat on to his 28-year-old second son, Shinjiro Koizumi.

Shinjiro has worked at a Washington think tank and served as an aide to his father, after graduating from a private university near Tokyo and obtaining a masters degree from New York’s Columbia University.

That makes him the fourth generation of the family in a row to enter politics. His grandad and great grandad were cabinet ministers.

“I know there is opposition to hereditary politics that I must overcome and even though they may think family politics may not be good, I ask all voters just to back me,” argues Shinjiro Koizumi, as he campaigns for the upcoming Aug. 30 election that the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) looks likely to lose.

Critics say the political dynasties discourage the best and brightest from entering politics, potentially depriving Japan of the top-notch leadership it needs to confront deep-seated problems. They argue it gives dynastic candidates an unfair advantage in organisation, funding and recognition.

So when Junichiro, who once pledged to destroy the LDP’s old ways, tapped his son as his preferred successor last fall, some political watchers expressed shock.

Shinjiro only hit the Yokosuka streets in late June, travelling in a rented Toyota Prius. His campaign staff are volunteers and he has not printed any leaflets or posters, but his office would not offer details on campaign spending so far.

Meanwhile, his opposition Democratic Party rival, 27-year-old Katsuhito Yokokume, started campaigning last October, has already handed out some 1 million leaflets and with over 1 million posters. Sporting a worn-out pair of $30 sneakers and a $1 tie, he usually cycles around the district to meet voters. His activities, along with staff pay, have cost Yokokume at least $31,000.

The son of a truck driver who graduated from the prestigious University of Tokyo with a law degree, Yokokume says he faces a major handicap just trying to get voters’ attention.

“He has a network that will take him anywhere in the district and allows him to meet and greet people anywhere… I feel it’s hard to compete with that.”

Some voters are frustrated, including Mitsuji Abe, a 75-year-old, long-time LDP backer.RUSSIA-FORUM/

“I’m thinking of not voting this time. I really don’t want Koizumi Junior, who is taking over his father’s turf without working hard himself,” he said.

“Rich people might all be that way, but I don’t think they understand the popular will.”

But not all are put off by the younger Koizumi’s background, and political analysts expect him to win.

“Koizumi is cute, so maybe I’ll vote for him,” said Emiko Watanabe, a 57-year-old housewife.

Photo credits: REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao (top photo of Shinjiro Koizumi) and REUTERS/Alexander Demianchuk (bottom photo of Junichiro Koizumi).

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