Saturday, August 29, 2009

Some Thoughts on Gender, and Princelings, in LDP Politics

I have been looking at the election through a forum consisting mostly of Japan experts. It has been an educative experience. You can catch most of the recent parts if you join the SSJ Forum. The following started out as a comment on a thread on gender in Japanese (and particularly LDP) politics, but it morphed into something broader and meandering toward the end. Since cleaning it up and narrowing its focus to fit that thread will take too much time and effort, I’m posting it here. I know that a few people there also look into my blog from time to time, so it won’t be totally lost to the discussions there.

I have no doubt that the route to national politics is harder for women than it is for men. However, once nominated and elected, I wonder how important gender is compared to non-gender factors in determining the career paths of politicians.

Take “the phenomenon of female ‘assassins’ who win their first election but find themselves on the margins of the party structure, despite their seeming value to the party in terms of electoral battles.” Note that all LDP rookies regardless of gender have always found “themselves on the margins of the party structure.” I assume that virtually all the assassins regardless of gender are now running for their lives and that those that lost to Post Office exiles and had to get in by way of their parallel PR bloc candidacy have been forced to move over or move out in favor of the stronger SMD returnee—again, no gender bias here. In this regard, it is ironic that Yukari Sato has had to yield to another woman, the female princeling Seiko Noda.

Speaking of Noda, I find her case particularly instructive in looking at the LDP at the entry level. Noda got a boost very early in her Lower House career as a very young cabinet minister, in no small part because she was a woman. But unlike anther very junior cabinet minister, Kuniko Inoguchi (the relation between whose fate in the upcoming election on one hand and her gender on the other by no means clear on the basis of publicly available information), she was from very early on seriously talked about as future Prime Minister material, and I think that I understand why—beyond, of course, her undeniable personal charm and intelligence, which are useful attributes regardless of gender. For she was a princeling once removed (so, very strictly speaking not an heirloom Diet member, but still), and she first served, if somewhat briefly, in the prefectural assembly. In short, she did more than do it the “right” way, if the career paths of the last four LDP Prime Ministers including the incumbent are any indication. The irony is thus compounded by the fact that her electoral fate is in question precisely because of a local grudge—some of the local LDP politicians who sided with Sato have refused to support Noda—a traditional “bunretsu senkyo,” or “divided election.”

Yuko Obuchi is another female HOR member who has prospered early, and moreover cakewalking to a fourth term while still in her mid-thirties in an otherwise disastrous election for the LDP. Again, a princeling, who took the even more common, personal secretary-to heir(ess) route.

Noda and Obuchi, of course, are exceptions that prove the rule. Female princelings are and will be few and far between. For the two examples highlight one major reason why there have been so few female politicians in the LDP fold. The LDP has been an industry that has come to be dominated by small, family-owned businesses. And Japanese succession in family-owned businesses strongly favors the patrilineal, and daughters typically marry out, or take husbands who are then adopted into the family business. In the two cases, there were no males able and willing to rightfully claim precedent. It is also important in these two cases that they inherited young. If Prime Minister Obuchi had lived another ten years, to see his daughter marry and have children, would she have been in a position to inherit? Or would the mantle have been passed on to a more distant blood relative, or a non-relative personal secretary, or perhaps some local political figure acceptable to Obuchi supporters? Likewise Noda, whose family—she was adopted by her maternal grandfather Uichi Noda—skipped a generation.

Of course the closely-held firm as a business model may be in swift decline. The LDP, goaded by the DPJ, has followed suit by banning close relatives from running as official party candidates. Even if loopholes are found—ex. “independent” candidacies—politicians are likely to have fewer children, if they are anything like the rest of us Japanese. And the upcoming election may serve as a cautionary tale for only sons when they balance their 9-to-5 jobs in media conglomerates and Keidanren member corporations. Thus, chances will be greater that no potential heir, let alone a male one, can be found who is willing and able.

Now, for some answers…

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