Young Japanese lawmakers emerge as a force in open race for PMs

TOKYO (Reuters) – A group of young lawmakers have become a force to be reckoned with in the leadership race of Japan’s ruling party, facing party barons in the big vote race on Wednesday, which will also determine the post of Prime Minister.

Ruling Liberal Democrat Party (LDP) presidential candidate Taro Kono, the cabinet minister in charge of vaccinations, meets with LDP MP Tatsuo Fukuda during their discussion meeting in Tokyo, Japan, September 21 2021, in this photo taken by Kyodo. Photo taken on September 21, 2021. Mandatory Credit Kyodo / via REUTERS

Many of the group’s 90 members, who came to power following former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, fear losses in a general election months after the leadership race and are angry with the customs of the party. party, including the weakening but still present sway of the old guard factions.

“There is no transparency in their operation, no explanation,” lawmaker Keitaro Ohno, 53, one of the founders of the Group for Renewing Party Spirit, told Reuters, referring to established factions.

“Even though we can operate quite freely, when it comes to leadership races and big party events, we are told from above ‘hey guys, watch it’. If you ask “why isn’t it?” “, They will say to you” just listen to me “. If I say it’s fair, it’s fair. It’s not good.

Although similar groups have formed throughout the history of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), it appears to be having an impact.

Due to his pressure, the party barons decided that members of formal factions can vote as they wish on Wednesday.

The four candidates for the head of the party – which will almost certainly become prime minister as the leader of the largest party in parliament – also entered a debate with the main members of the group, apparently seeking to gain support.

Although analysts believe many in the group will choose vaccine minister Taro Kono, he does not endorse any candidate.

Ohno backs former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida – who spoke about party reform, including term limits.

The old factions of the party have lost their influence since the reforms of the 1990s, when they were prohibited from funding candidates, leaving that only at party headquarters. Now they are scrambling mainly for ministerial and party positions.


Although Ohno has said party elders can have useful experience and factions can be useful, voters tell him and others that they are increasingly wary of politics in the old one, characterized by behind-the-scenes deals, like how Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga was chosen last year.

Members of the group say they must take the initiative to win over voters.

“I hear that our ability to communicate is weak, that we have to do what the elders want,” Arata Takebe, a 51-year-old Hokkaido lawmaker, said in a video on his website.

“If the younger members are not energetic, the LDP is not attractive. That’s why we have this group.

Rebels, they are not. Many, including Ohno and Takebe, are second or third generation politicians. The group’s leader, Tatsuo Fukuda, 54, is the son and grandson of prime ministers.

Many have corporate backgrounds like Ohno, a former researcher at electronics company Fujitsu who received a scholarship from an American university. They also matured after the bubble burst in Japan, which Ohno says means they don’t take things for granted.

“Young Diet members feel like they have nothing to do, they are cut off, they haven’t won their service time, so they have to shut up and do as they’re told, and who likes that? ” said Tobias Harris, senior researcher at the Center for American Progress.

The pressure of a looming general election – one slated to take place by Nov. 28 – has given young politicians leverage for change, Harris said.

“The circumstances of this election gave them an opening which they used to weaken factional control over the outcome.”

Ohno, who has not identified with any of the party’s old factions, hopes his group can achieve what he says are voters’ widespread hopes for a more contemporary political system.

“It means breaking away from the style of political management of the Showa era,” he said, referring to the period 1926 to 1989, corresponding to the reign of Emperor Hirohito. “And, modernization.”

Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Robert Birsel

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