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Family Connections Growing in Importance in Japanese Politics

July 04, 1986|SAM JAMESON | Times Staff Writer

Koji Toyama, a Fukuda campaign manager, dismissed the Nakasone camp's argument about the prime minister's need to bow out with a flourish. He said Hirofumi was running simply because his father wanted his to follow in his footsteps. Hirofumi's candidacy, Toyama said, "is the destiny of a man who was born as the son of a politician."

On occasion, the death of a member of Parliament touches off a free-for-all among members of his family, his secretaries and leaders of his support association. Political issues are seldom a factor in the succession.

In Kumamoto prefecture, Tenkoko Sonoda, the widow of Sunao Sonoda, a former foreign minister, and Hiroyuki Sonoda, his son from an earlier marriage, are both trying to take over Sonoda's political organization.

The Sacred Machine

Katsumi Kobayashi, the younger Sonoda's campaign manager, said that years of effort and huge sums of money go into building up such machines, and to let them disintegrate would be virtually sacrilegious.

"A supporters' association is a politician's fortune," he said. "Giving it away to an outsider is profane."

Between elections, the supporters' associations deal with all sorts of voter problems, from getting a son into college or finding a job for a relative to intervening with government officials to stop an investigation or build a bridge or pave a road. The associations carefully take note of constituents' birthdays and weddings and funerals.

Keeping in touch with constituents requires huge sums of money. When a member of Parliament goes abroad he sends back great numbers of postcards to keep members of his association informed about his progress. A politician facing a difficult election might send back as many as 10,000 postcards on a single trip, for the larger associations number in the hundreds of thousands of members.

31 Years of Control

There are so many conservative supporters' associations around the country that the Liberal Democratic Party is believed to be virtually guaranteed of about 250 of the 511 seats in the lower house, just shy of a majority. They account for the party's unbroken control of the government since it was formed in 1955.

Toyama, the campaign manager for Fukuda, said that passing a supporters' association along to a member of the family is often the only way to preserve the machine after a politician dies.

"If one of a dozen or so lieutenants in a supporters' association is chosen as successor, the others resent it," he said. "Frequently they rebel, and the organization splits up. The easiest way to keep the lieutenants united is to have the son succeed the father."

Clearly this logic has taken hold. Since the last election three years ago, the number of conservative "hereditary candidates," including those who failed to win the endorsement of the Liberal Democratic Party, has increased from 117 to 134, according to the newspaper Asahi.

Campaigns Are Costly

Because the average campaign costs in excess of $1 million, most aspiring politicians find it too expensive to go out on their own. Riding on the name of a relative or taking over a supporters' association is not only quicker and cheaper but more likely to succeed.

In 1980, when Prime Minister Masayoshi Ohira died in the middle of the campaign, his son-in-law, Hajime Morita, took over as the candidate and won more votes than Ohira got in any of the 11 preceding elections.

In the last lower house election in December, 1983, nearly 80% of the conservatives' "family candidates" won--compared to about 70% of all conservative candidates.

Indirectly, the ruling party promotes "hereditary politics" when it decides whom to endorse as an official candidate. According to Tarumi, the party sees as the primary factor a candidate's chance of winning--"and if a candidate is inheriting a supporters' association, the chances of victory are greater."

Political insiders say that the key to victory is summed up as jiban, kaban, kamban. The first is foundation, in this case the supporter association; the second is money (literally, "briefcase"), and the third is reputation, or name value.

Support From 350,000

The younger Nakasone has a foundation and a name by virtue of being his father's son. Also, he has rounded up 350,000 supporters to form an association of his own, which adds to the support he is getting from his father's.

Teruji Takashima, a veteran politician who runs young Nakasone's campaign headquarters, said the briefcase, or money, problem had been taken care of, too, though he would give no details.

"He (Hirofumi) has all three, plus a pleasant personality," Takashima said. "He is very polite, even if you go to him to ask for a favor. He leaves you with a good feeling when you ask him for something."

Family connections really only matter in the candidate's first try for political office, said Takashima. After that, a son is likely to be judged on his own "strong and weak points," rather than the family name, he added.

Takashima made it clear that he as well as others in the prefecture have some favors to ask after the election.

"Hirofumi will make requests to the ministries on his own, but on big projects he will get together with his father, the prime minister," Takashima said. "Voters will expect Hirofumi to do the smaller things that his father doesn't have time to do."

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