Friday, October 12, 2007

Seeking "Normal Life", Takahide Kimura (LDP) Leaving Diet

52 year old Diet member Takahide Kimura (House of Representatives, Aichi 5th District, LDP) held a news conference on October 9 and announced that he would not seek a fifth term and would leave politics to return to a normal life. According to the Asahi, he confessed that he was "not fit to be a politician" and explained:

"I reached the same age as my father when he died and I considered how I should live from here on. I am not the kind who conducts giin rippō [legislation initiated by Diet members; most Japanese legislative bills are developed and submitted by the Cabinet)] and otherwise creates his own future. I am not appropriate to a new era when the fences between factions and parties are diminished and Diet members create new groups on their own. I apologize to my supporters for my selfish reasons."

(translated from: 父が亡くなった年と同じ年になり、これからをどう生きようか考えた。私は議員立法をするなど、自分で切り開くタイプではない。派閥や党の垣根が低くなり、議員同士がグループをつくる新しい時代には向いていない。身勝手な理由で、支持者の皆さんには申し訳ない。)

None of the newspapers gave an explanation of what Mr. Kimura thought of as the old era, but it's easy to imagine. Like other LDP members of the post-1955 regime, he could look forward to perhaps a couple of more decades in the Diet, during which he could expect to be appointed to a minor Cabinet post in his sixth term (fifth if he were exceptional, seventh if he were unlucky), and another one before he retired. In the case of Mr. Kimura, he does not seem to be a person who sought power within the party (say, angle for a share of the Big Three party posts), so he would have contented himself with the usual gig of bringing public works and other public money to his district and otherwise doing favors for his constituents, and, when the time came to choose the new LDP President, he would dutifully vote with (and hopefully for) his faction chief. After all, if Mr. Kimura were a typical LDP Diet member, faction sponsorship and support for his initial run for the Diet seat would have been crucial to his success (though, with his strong background in Prefectural politics, it may have not been as significant as for the average aspirant). The faction chief would also be tending to Cabinet and sub-Cabinet government appointments, as well as initial assignments to Diet committees. And he would also welcome your son or son-in-law with open arms when he succeeded you on your retirement. As for legislation, you voted for the bill that the Cabinet submitted, and left the hard thinking to the bureaucrats. Why they would even draft accompanying resolutions, if it came to that. You got along, to get along. Do it well enough, and you had a teensy-weensy chance of becoming House President, or the far less delectable but still prestigious LDP General Council Chairman, the least of the Big Three, along the way.

Contrast this with a world where faction members vote against the wishes of their leaders with impunity, and Diet members associate freely and new Diet members choose factions with leisure after they are elected and often decide not to join at all. And even (sometimes) submit their own legislative bills!

One of Mr. Kimura's two most memorable moments speaks eloquently of his lament for the old ways, for it turns out to have been a most unhappy occasion for him:

"I was opposed to the immediate privatization of the Post Office till the end. But in order to stand for election from the LDP, I could not maintain my opposition, and I continue to regret that even now."

(translated from: 私は最後まで即時の郵政民営化に反対だった。しかし、自民から選挙に出るため、反対を貫くことができずにいまだに悔やんでいる。)

Shinzo Abe, also opposed to the Koizumi proposal, also reluctantly went along, and was rewarded with a year in the Prime Minister's seat. Mr. Kimura, with his very different background but also staring mortality in the face, decided to walk out on his own two feet.

I do not know what kind of a "normal life" awaits a 52 year old man "not fit to be a politician" who has nevertheless been in elective office for 22 years - son of a Prefectural Assemblyman, Mr. Kimura succeeded his deceased father in 1985 before he ran successfully for the House of Representatives in 1996 – but I wish him the best.


Jan Moren said...

Any idea what he actually will do after retiring from the Diet? Or what politicians here end up doing in general (that is to say, politicians that really leave, not segue into a post-retirement amakudari post)?

Jun Okumura said...

Welcome to the Japanese blogosphere, Janne. I hope that you are enjoying yourself here, as much as you are doing in Kansai.

I have no idea what a 52 year old man who has spent the better part of his adult life as a politician is going to do with the rest of his life. In the U.S., he could become a lobbyist. It's definitely something people like Norimitsu Ohnishi should be looking into.

As for the rest of the bunch, the successful ones keep on going until they can pass it on to their sons, sons-in-law and other male relatives, and daughters, likely in that order. The unsuccessful ones ultimately seek other lines of work, and a few have run afoul of the law. It's the lifecycle of the typical small businessman. Amakudari posts exist only for ex-Prime Ministers in my view. In fact, a Diet seat is very much like a small business with relatively high entry barriers, which would explain the prevalence of heritage politicians.