Hereditary politicians remain a powerful force in Japan’s political scene. More than 30% of elected representatives from all parties are second, third, or fourth-generation Diet members.
Hereditary politics has long been a feature of Japanese democracy. Still, some critics have suggested it’s becoming more of a structural issue. This article examines why it is so prevalent and its challenges to the political process.
Hereditary politicians remain the dominant force in Japan, with 45 percent of its Diet members – including a large majority of Prime Ministers – being nisei. These families rely on the “three musts”: support groups, name recognition, and pornos campaign finances to gain power; unfortunately for their offspring, these resources often disappear as well.
However, this practice is increasingly under criticism from voters and political scientists who say it creates an inbred version of democracy that doesn’t adequately meet the needs of most Japanese citizens. Additionally, this practice has contributed to leadership paralysis within Japan, making it harder for politicians to effectively address crises like Japan’s financial crisis or prolonged economic decline.
Nisheek is also highly likely to succeed in elections; in 2018, they accounted for more than half of the LDP’s Diet seats. But, again, this is because Japan’s political system, while democratic, does not always reflect it accurately.
Instead, it is a functional bureaucracy with all the statesmanship, brown-nosing, inter-factional stonewalling, media silencing, corruption, and sycophantism that such an arrangement requires. Unfortunately, hereditary politics remains entrenched and has become a significant barrier to developing new ideas in Japan’s political arena.
Hereditary politics are not inherently wrong, but it’s essential to note that they can restrict the inflow of new blood into Japan’s political system – potentially harming democratization. Furthermore, many individuals with potential for political office avoid running because they feel their family obligations and jobs make running for office too demanding.
Koenkai is a political support group centered on individual politicians that are one of the most effective vote mobilization methods in Japanese politics. Research has indicated that those associated with Koenkai tend to have a 10% higher voter turnout than non-members.
Koenkai networks remain influential in Japanese politics despite recent electoral reforms. Money plays an integral role in garnering votes and getting seats in parliament, so their networks provide invaluable resources for many politicians.
Most of Japan’s population comprises nisei (second-generation Diet members). As a result, they possess access to family finances and business connections that are invaluable for gaining power in both parliaments and as prime ministers.
Koenkai has become an essential element of the political process and has helped strengthen the LDP’s power. Furthermore, they serve as a critical instrument in electoral strategy as they act as a vote-mobilizing device for individual politicians.
Koenkai may provide funding for candidates’ campaign efforts.
They typically form in districts they represent and use local businesses or individuals as sources of capital.
The LDP has utilized this form of campaigning since the 1980s. It is widely believed that it still exerts considerable political power today. This is partly due to their continued control of the legislature – something impossible before 1994 when SNTV/MMD animeidhentai system changes were instituted.
Until recently, this system was widely seen as an effective means of cultivating a clientelistic political atmosphere, encouraging candidates to craft personal campaign strategies to win votes – particularly in multimember districts where candidates could compete against one another.
As a result, candidate campaigns became heavily dominated by kinken-seiji (money power politics), which had been nurtured during the pre-reform era. This system also ensured that candidate campaigns focused on garnering personal votes rather than substantive policy debates.
In 1994, however, the SNTV/MMD system was replaced by the mixed member majoritarian (MMM) system. While this marked a significant reduction in relevance during campaigns and eliminated single-member districts altogether, it didn’t eradicate clientelism. Indeed, koenkai networks were influential in helping propel the Liberal Democratic Party back to power in 2009 and are expected to remain so going forward.
Japan has a longstanding tradition of hereditary politics. One notable example is the Koizumi family, an influential political force since the late 1930s. Many members of this clan have served as Prime Ministers, including Nobusuke Kishi and Shinzo Abe.
Hereditary politicians in Japan remain dominant despite only sometimes being successful candidates due to three primary resources: Jiban (local support groups), Kanban (name recognition), and Kaban (financial support from their koenkai). A study by Nikkei Asia revealed that hereditary candidates’ electoral success rate is 80 percent greater than non-hereditary ones.
The LDP has maintained its majority in both Houses of Representatives and local assemblies, even during trying times, such as after the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011. Moreover, although its support in rural areas was reduced due to economic hardship, its hold on urban districts remains strong – it holds a solid majority in Tokyo metropolitan area local assemblies with help from the urban-based CGP coalition.
Koenkai has the potential to unite voters with their elected representatives. Yet, many supporters would instead rely on them. Many view the koenkai as a personal political tool that serves only one politician and can quickly be passed along in the family.
To overcome these barriers, nisei (native-born Japanese) must become responsive to their koenkai and mobilize its resources and voters for them.
Hereditary politicians must often prioritize creating an image and programs that appeal to local voters, particularly in urban districts where voters are not bound by koenkai.
Koenkai must ensure their policies are consistent with those of their chosen candidates, which could prove challenging as koenkai may offer financial incentives to promote them and attract additional supporters.
Hereditary politicians must strive to connect emotionally with their electorate by tailoring programs and policies according to people’s needs. This is especially critical if they plan to lead the country through difficult times.