SHIBUKAWA, Gunma Pref. — Upon entering Yuko Obuchi’s election headquarters here, one notices a poster of her beaming father, the late Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, hanging at the entrance.
Obuchi, 26, and her staff are trying to build on public sympathy over her father’s death last month. She aims to win his seat to represent the Gunma Prefecture No. 5 constituency.
“I will succeed my father and engage in politics,” Obuchi told supporters when the election campaign officially kicked off last week. “I will devote myself to becoming a politician capable of serving the public.”
The media have meanwhile criticized the increasing number of politicians who inherit their relatives’ constituencies, claiming that such a trend maintains and promotes back-scratching alliances between politicians and local interest groups.
At the time the Lower House was dissolved earlier this month, about 30 percent of all members had succeeded their relatives in their constituencies.
Noboru Imoto, one of the young Obuchi’s election campaign staffers, admitted that public criticism was mounting toward such “hereditary lawmakers,” who inherit not only a relative’s constituency but also their fundraising and vote-gathering machines.
At the same time, he added, the late prime minister’s second daughter will not be able to win a seat in Sunday’s poll by depending solely on the votes of LDP supporters.
Obuchi’s election staff is refusing media requests for interviews with her.
“Although she inherited her father’s constituency, only about 10 percent of the LDP supporters (in the electoral district) can really be counted on (to vote for her),” said Imoto, a former secretary of the late prime minister.
Born and raised in Tokyo, Obuchi is waging a “grassroots campaign” in which she rides a campaign car and shakes hands with supporters all day long, he stressed.
For decades, her father was almost never present in Gunma during campaign periods because he was too busy stumping for others.
“Since she is still 26, we ask voters to put confidence in her potential as a politician,” Imoto said. “In a sense, she has become the embodiment (of her father), but all she will be able to do (if elected) is devote herself to politics.”
However, Tsuruo Yamaguchi, 74, a Social Democratic Party secretary general who retired from politics in 1996, has returned to the fray, challenging the younger Obuchi and the trend toward “bequeathing” Diet seats, by announcing his candidacy in the same constituency.
“In other countries, second- or third-generation politicians only account for 6 percent or 7 percent (of the legislature),” Yamaguchi said, noting that in Britain, second-generation politicians cannot run from the relative’s constituency in order to cut off concessions.
“Inherited constituencies are a hotbed of corruption,” claimed Yamaguchi, a former director general of the Management and Coordination Agency.
But most voters in the Gunma constituency said they believe Obuchi has a clear advantage over other candidates, even with her lack of political experience.
Company employee Kazuharu Sakaniwa criticized the hereditary system since it means novices can engage in national politics.
“Eighty percent of the voters do not expect anything from her,” Sakaniwa said. “She will be elected only because of the popularity of the Obuchi name.”
But voter Goro Kosuge said it is important to have a stable flow of politicians from Gunma as seen in the past with the bloodlines of former Prime Ministers Takeo Fukuda and Yasuhiro Nakasone.
“I don’t know much about her,” Kosuge, a cabby, admitted. “But I am pinning hope on her future and potential.”