National

Single-seat constituencies offer refuge for LDP elders who refuse to retire

Former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, 84, is battling hard to defy attempts by the Liberal Democratic Party leadership to block his planned run in the upcoming general election.

Yet while Nakasone is affected by a new party rule excluding candidates aged 73 or older from its roster for the proportional representation segment of the ballot, there are plenty of LDP elders who hope to keep their Diet seat in the single-seat constituencies, where the LDP has set no age limit.

Former trade minister Sadanori Yamanaka, 82, plans to run in the No. 5 constituency in Kagoshima Prefecture. Sources close to the lawmaker said that while Yamanaka himself had not been too eager to pursue a 17th term in the House of Representatives, he will run because of strong pressure from local agricultural lobbies.

During a gathering earlier this month to mark the opening of what will be his local campaign headquarters, Yamanaka failed to appear and instead had his 41-year-old son make a speech in his place.

“When I think that (my father) will have to continue working while gradually whittling away what remains of his life, I truly feel sorry for him,” his son said.

Hideyuki Aizawa, 84, a former financial services minister, will probably be forced into a battle with one of his former secretaries, 52-year-old Yoshihiro Kawakami, in the No. 2 constituency of Tottori Prefecture.

While Kawakami plans to focus his campaign on the need to pass the baton on to the younger generation, Aizawa maintains that “the strength of the LDP lies in the good age balance among elderly, middle-aged and young lawmakers.”

Meanwhile, 79-year-old Taro Nakayama, who currently heads the House of Representatives Research Commission on the Constitution, hopes to secure re-election from the No. 18 district of Osaka Prefecture.

According to the LDP, the age limit was put in place when the proportional representation system was introduced. In the House of Councilors, the “retirement age” was set at 70 — the result of subtracting one six-year term for the chamber from 76, which was the average male life span at the time.

When proportional representation was brought to the Lower House, where lawmakers serve a maximum four-year term with the possibility of dissolution, the same equation was used to arrive at the limit of 73.

However, candidates can be older than this if they run in a single-seat constituency, with the only party rule being that if they are older than 73 and lose, they will no longer receive official party backing in future elections.

Raizo Matsuno, 86, a former chairman of the LDP Executive Council, observed that since voters are getting younger, candidates need to keep up with that trend or they will be unable to attract voters with no particular party affiliation.

“But deciding on the timing of one’s departure, in the end, comes down to a decision by that person,” Matsuno said.

While most parties are telling voters that they are aware of the need to become more youthful, the situation is most problematic for the LDP.

The party has long embraced a seniority-based structure, leaving it with many elderly lawmakers who have won numerous elections.

New Komeito is the only major party that has an official age restriction banning members, even those at local politics level, from exceeding 66 years of age during a term. But because the party is a member of the ruling coalition, it has exempted Chikara Sakaguchi, 69, the health, labor and welfare minister, and Secretary General Tetsuzo Fuyushiba, 67.

Party officials said they were not sure what led to the rule, but that it was probably implemented to follow the generally accepted retirement age in Japan.

The Social Democratic Party set a retirement age of 70 for Diet members when it was still known as the Social Democratic Party of Japan.

Former Chairman Makoto Tanabe and Tsuruo Yamaguchi, former management and coordination agency chief, retired in line with this rule.

Under current SDP rules, however, there is no such age limit. The issue is difficult to broach because party leader Takako Doi is 74, party sources said.

At the Democratic Party of Japan, the party will not give official backing to new candidates who are older than 70. But this is nonbinding, and Tomio Sakagami, 76, who lost his seat in the previous general election, plans to run in the upcoming race.

Neither the New Conservative Party of the Japanese Communist Party have age limits.