Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

Make mine a milk

August 27, 2009

Japan’s far north, once home to pet projects of scions of the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party, looks set to become an even hotter bed of opposition Democratic Party success in this weekend’s Japanese election capped, if polls and analysts are correct, by a local son becoming the nation’s next prime minister.

But while the country decides whether opposition leader Yukio Hatoyama will become premier, voters in Hokkaido will also decide the fate of a certain disgraced former finance, trade and farms minister who is battling for his political life.

JAPAN-POLITICS/Shoichi Nakagawa, who last graced this blog when his antics at February’s G8 finance ministers’ summit in Rome prompted his resignation from the cabinet, is trailing his 36-year-old DPJ rival, Tomohiro Ishikawa, for a seat his family has held for nearly half a century, according to the local Tokachi Mainichi newspaper on  Wednesday.

Nakagawa, once a rising star in the LDP — and still a relatively young hand in the party at 56 — quit the cabinet after having to deny he was was drunk at the summit, which an often replayed video of his departing news conference did little to support, undermining his already weak ally, Prime Minister Taro Aso.

His departure speech cited “careless health management”, which has morphed into potential careless career management, as the LDP prepares for a likely lashing on Sunday.

In the last election in 2005, Nakagawa won his seat by about 23,000 votes, but judging from newspapers and the ample Nakagawa posters in the city of Obihiro this week, confidence is lacking in Hokkaido’s 11th District this time around.

Nakagawa, like DPJ chief Hatoyama, followed a family line into politics, but his entry after a Tokyo upbringing stemmed from the suicide of his then 57-year-old father, a former farms minister who locals say is still revered among the prefecture’s politically strong agricultural community.

At a recent campaign event, Shoichi swore off alcohol in a pledge to local voters, reportedly drinking milk as a further bridge to the dairy electorate.

But some locals aren’t that forgiving and those I’ve spoken with in Obihiro say the Nakagawa Kingdom, as it is commonly referred to locally, faces a revolution.

If Nakagawa loses to Ishikawa, he would still have a chance of keeping his Diet badge as a proportional representative. This would be a humbling that would resonate voter dissatisfaction but still allow the once strong Hokkaido prince to remain in the game, if only to lead a chorus to heckle fellow home boy Hatoyama.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Toru Yamanaka/Pool

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