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In Japanese politics, family ties still count a lot.

Many retiring Diet members’ sons are running in the former constituencies of their fathers in the Nov. 9 general election of the House of Representatives.

Such a practice has often been criticized as hereditary transfer of Diet seats, but is still widespread because the sons inheriting the fathers’ long-established local support bases are at a clear advantage over their rivals.

This is especially true under the single-seat constituency system of the Lower House, where lawmakers hold enormous power over their electoral districts.

Shinsuke Okuno, a 59-year-old former Nissan Motor Co. executive, plans to run in the No. 3 constituency in Nara Prefecture, which had until the Lower House dissolution been represented by his 90-year-old father, former Justice Minister Seisuke Okuno of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

“I have built up my career in the world of private-sector business and I have my vision in politics,” the younger Okuno said as he explained the reason for his candidacy.

But some local supporters say the elder Okuno should have retired much earlier if he had wanted his son to take over his constituency.

The move by the veteran LDP politician drew criticism even from within the party.

“Just at the moment he decided to retire from politics, he tries to donate his Diet seat to his son,” former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori said shortly after Okuno announced last year that he would not seek re-election.

“I thought the son would be either in his 30s or 40s, but he is almost 60,” Mori added.

The elder Okuno himself voiced displeasure over such criticism. My son “has his own career achievements. I don’t want people to simply think that (he) is inheriting my constituency,” he said.

Taku Eto, 43, the son of veteran LDP politician Takami Eto, 78, is running in the race from the Nov. 2 constituency in Miyazaki Prefecture, long his father’s realm.

The younger Eto does not hesitate to emphasize the advantage of being the son of an influential LDP member who until recently led one of the party’s largest factions.

“It has been my raison d’etre in life to work for my father,” said Taku Eto, who stresses the benefits of close ties with bureaucrats that he has built up while working as his dad’s secretary.

The elder Eto appears ready to use all his political muscle to ensure his son’s victory, drumming up backing from his longtime supporters.

In Hokkaido, Kenji Sato, a 46-year-old former employee of Nippon Telephone and Telegraph Corp., is running on the LDP ticket from the prefecture’s No. 8 constituency. He is the son of Koko Sato, 75, a veteran LDP lawmaker who has announced his retirement.

The elder Sato had received a suspended prison term for his involvement in the Lockheed bribery scandal of the 1970s, and lost his Diet seat in the last Lower House election in 2000. “I am different from my father. I want voters to understand me,” the younger Sato said.

However, a campaign worker for an independent candidate running in the same constituency, who lost out to Sato in the LDP’s candidate selection process earlier this year, complained that the party appears to have favored Sato from the start.

Gentaro Kan, 30, the son of Naoto Kan, president of the Democratic Party of Japan, is running in the No. 1 constituency in Okayama Prefecture. Naoto Kan himself is seeking re-election from his Tokyo No. 18 constituency.

On Wednesday, the elder Kan visited Okayama Prefecture to stump for DPJ candidates in local constituencies, including the son. Noting that his father and wife are natives of the prefecture, the popular DPJ leader said he “feels close” to Okayama, even though he himself hails from Yamaguchi Prefecture.

The younger Kan, a Tokyo native with little connection to Okayama, only briefly refers to his father while appealing for voter support.

His rival candidates say they sense “some inconsistencies” because the DPJ chief has long criticized the practice of retiring politicians trying to have their sons take over their constituencies.

But the elder Kan argues that his son’s case is different, because he is not running in the father’s constituency. “Ultimately, it was (my son’s) free will to run,” he told reporters.

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