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Japan parliamentary race hits record low for candidates under 40

  • October 20, 2021
  • , Nikkei Asia , 6:03 a.m.
  • English Press

TOKYO — Candidates in their 20s and 30s make up 9.4% and women less than 20% of those running in Japan’s lower house election on Oct. 31, highlighting the country’s continued struggles with incorporating new and more diverse viewpoints into its politics.


Of the 1,051 registered candidates who began campaigning on Tuesday, 99 are in their 20s and 30s — falling below the 10% mark for the first time. The total number of candidates is the smallest of any lower house election since single-seat districts were introduced in 1996.


Meanwhile, 97 are 70 years old and above. With the odds stacked in favor of incumbents and legacies, both ruling and opposition parties risk missing out on fresh political minds that can help the country navigate emerging challenges.


The share of younger candidates this year is low even compared with Japan’s previous elections. Those in their 20s and 30s made up 15% of the field in 1993, when campaigning focused on reform and generational shifts in Japan’s political landscape. Young lawmakers elected that year included eventual Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and opposition leader Yukio Edano. The race also led to Japan’s first government not led by the Liberal Democratic Party since 1955.


In 1996, 18% of candidates were under 40. Around 64% were running for the first time, including former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. More recently in 2012, 296 candidates were under 40 — roughly three times as many as in this month’s election.


This year, 52% of candidates are first-timers — the second-lowest figure under the current electoral system, after 50.7% in 2014. Just 44% of candidates for the leading opposition Constitutional Democratic Party are running for the first time.


Women’s participation has also flagged despite a law enacted in 2018 designed to promote gender equality in politics. Women make up 17.7% of the field this year, roughly flat from 17.8% in 2017.


Japan ranked 165 out of 190 countries as of September in terms of the percentage of women in its lower house at 9.9%, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, a global organization of national parliaments. The U.S., the second-lowest ranking member of the Group of Seven, had 27.6%.


The lack of fresh blood stems in part from the ruling LDP’s decisive victories in the past three lower house elections. Over 80% of the party’s candidates have won in these races, and every incumbent who holds on to a single-seat district means one less spot for a newcomer.


Candidates under 40 make up 5.4% of those running for the LDP and 1.9% of those for junior coalition partner Komeito this year.


Even when incumbents step down, many pass local support structures down to family members, giving them a significant advantage over any would-be challengers. About 10% of this year’s candidates — 30% among LDP candidates alone — either had a parent in parliament, inherited support organizations from a close relative, or both.


Opposition parties tend to have a larger pool of younger, fresher faces, though not by much. Under 40s account for 9% of the CDP’s total candidates, about the same as the overall average.

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