The general election to be held in June will provide an opportunity for the rejuvenation of the Lower House. About 30 Lower House members have already announced — or are moving to announce before the election — their retirement from politics. They cite old age, illness and family reasons for retiring.
Some elderly politicians who decide to run could lose their seats to younger rivals. Ultimately, young lawmakers could replace older politicians in about 40 seats.
Many lawmakers are retiring because the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has established a compulsory retirement age of 73 for legislators elected on the basis of proportional representation in response to mounting public criticism of the dominance of older politicians.
In addition, the number of proportional representation seats in the Lower House, the haven for old politicians, was cut by 20. Gerontocracy and ministerial appointments based on factional strength have long been cited as problems in the LDP’s long rule.
To be sure, the rejuvenation of the political world is a welcome development. Many veteran lawmakers who have exerted influence amid political chaos in the past decades are retiring. At a time when Japan and the world are fast changing, young lawmakers should replace older politicians to help formulate national policies to meet the changing demands of the times.
Among the retiring politicians are former Lower House Speaker Kenzaburo Hara, 93, of the LDP; former Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita, 77, the bedridden LDP kingmaker; and former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, 76, of the Social Democratic Party, who led the tripartite coalition government of the LDP, the SDP and the New Party Sakigake. Former Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, who is still hospitalized after suffering a stroke in early April, was also forced to retire.
Also planning to retire are former Chief Cabinet Secretaries Misoji Sakamoto and Seiroku Kajiyama, as well as former Komeito Chairman Koshiro Ishida. All are close to or in their 70s. Former SDP deputy chief Shigeru Ito is also retiring to take care of his bedridden wife.
But some senior politicians refuse to retire. Among them are former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, 81, and former Lower House Speaker Yoshio Sakurauchi, 88. Nakasone says it is his duty to serve the nation until he dies, as he pledged as a Japanese military officer in World War II. It is uncertain if Finance Minister Kiichi Miyazawa, 80, will retire. He said earlier he would concede his seat in a single-seat district to his nephew and seek re-election on the basis of proportional representation. Takeshita’s retirement could weaken the long tradition of a behind-the-scenes kingmaker ruling the LDP.
There is serious concern, however, that many political retirees’ seats will be filled by their children. Junior lawmakers who inherited their seats usually are better educated and are more politically clever than their fathers, but lack political ideals and a sense of justice.
Except for a few who claim World War II was a holy war for Japan, older politicians have not forgotten the utter destruction of the nation as a result of the war and the importance of peace. In that respect, young lawmakers of the ruling camp and the opposition forces alike are no match for senior politicians. We should not be deceived by all the hype about a generational change.
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