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After graduating from one of the nation’s most prestigious universities, Keiro Kitagami became a Finance Ministry bureaucrat, thereby joining the ranks of the elite in Tokyo’s Kasumigaseki government hub.

Ordinarily, he would have been expected to tread this bureaucratic path before seeking the blessing of the Liberal Democratic Party and powerful business groups to forge a political career.

But the 36-year-old Kitagami is aiming for a Diet seat now — and not on the LDP ticket.

“The LDP approached me. But I was frustrated with the way things were, and thought it would be the same thing if I ran with the LDP,” Kitagami said in his Kyoto campaign office. “So I chose to run with the Democratic Party of Japan.”

He is not the only former bureaucrat who has made this decision. In Sunday’s general election, 15 former officials in the national government are running for the House of Representatives in single-seat districts for the first time.

While eight are running on the DPJ ticket, just seven are on the LDP ticket — a phenomenon unseen in the past.

The bureaucracy has long been a breeding ground for politicians, with those from senior government posts often running as LDP candidates, banking on the connections they built during years of civil service.

But a new trend is emerging. Bureaucrats are quitting at a younger age and opting to run with the DPJ, the largest opposition party.

One reason is their disenchantment with the status quo, as symbolized by the LDP. But there is also another, more practical explanation. They have little chance of running with LDP backing even if they want to, because too many want in.

“The LDP has established a system in which lawmakers pass on their Diet seats to their children,” said political analyst Minoru Morita. “Former bureaucrats who do not fall under that category have a slim chance.”

Kitagami said the long waiting list to become an LDP candidate makes the option of running on the ruling party ticket less attractive.

“There is a waiting list of second-generation and third-generation (lawmakers), as well as local-level assembly members,” said Kitagami, who is contesting the seat that was held up until the Lower House dissolution by LDP heavyweight Hiromu Nonaka, who has retired. He is running against an LDP candidate.

“Even if young people wanted to join the political world from the LDP, they don’t have a chance,” Kitagami said.

Yet the new bureaucrat-DPJ candidates, as well as the new breed of former bureaucrats who have already entered politics, differ little from their LDP peers in terms of political perspective.

“I think people will say that I could very well be an LDP candidate,” Kitagami said. “It would not be strange if I was.”

One bureaucrat-turned-DPJ politician said the line is so thin he might have sought an LDP Diet seat if he had been forced to.

“If it was a choice between the DPJ and the LDP, I would have chosen the DPJ. But if I had been told that the DPJ was not accepting any more candidates, but the LDP was, I may have run with the LDP,” he said.

Pundits say the move by former elite public servants to join the DPJ as lawmakers could strengthen the party, and could possibly foster a true two-party system to counter the LDP’s almost unbroken postwar rule.

“The DPJ did not have enough strength because it was basically made up of government outsiders,” said Koji Matsui, a DPJ House of Councilors member and an ex-Ministry of International Trade and Industry bureaucrat. “But an increase in the number of former bureaucrats in the party means an increase in those with inside knowledge of government organization.”

Analyst Morita said: “The flow of young bureaucrats into the DPJ should be a threat to the LDP, since that means those well-versed in policies are going to the DPJ.

“Plus, young means clean. The image could become the scandal-tainted LDP vs. a fresh and clean DPJ.”

Many see the bureaucratic forays into the DPJ continuing, at least until the party gets bigger.

“Once the DPJ becomes large and the number of incumbents grows, we could face the same problem as the LDP,” the DPJ’s Matsui said, referring to the LDP candidate waiting list.

“We must be careful not to become like the LDP.”

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