Democratic Party of Japan senior advisor Watanabe Kozo is one of the grand old men of Japanese politics. He is one of the three surviving members of the famous Seven Magistrates (shichinin no bugyo) of the Liberal Democratic Party, the seven middle-ranking members of the Takeshita Faction identified as likely future prime ministers (the other two surviving members of the group are Ozawa Ichiro and Hata Tsutomu. An oddity: only those who left the LDP are alive today).
However, the weight of years (79 of them) and ill health are forcing Watanabe K. to consider retirement at the end of the current Diet's term.
Herein lies a problem. The support group (koenkai) of Watanabe K. wants his first born son, Watanabe Tsuneo (no, obviously not that Watanabe Tsuneo) to succeed his father. DPJ rules, as laid down by the party manifesto of 2009, forbid the handing down of seats to family members. It is a rather ridiculous rule, as it was laid down by Ozawa Ichiro and Hatoyama Yukio, both of whom are hereditary seat holders (ah, the sweet scent of the double standard).
[Ed. Re: Hatoyama, see comment #5 below]
So Watanabe T. cannot receive the support of the local DPJ chapter should he wish to run. Of course, if the DPJ local chapter chooses someone else to run for Watanabe's seat, that person is unlikely to defeat an LDP opponent without the full support of the Watanabe K. koenkai.
Yesterday Watanabe K. suggested a novel solution (Watanabe K. is notorious for mumbling out contrarian and cranky suggestions, making him every journalist's best friend). If DPJ rules prevent his son from inheriting his seat and his koenkai remains adamant that it will support no one else, then Watanabe the Younger can run as a candidate on the Your Party ticket. (J)
Cue sound of DPJ senior cadres rolling their eyes and biting their lips.
Of course, Watanabe the Younger may not even want the job. A political scientist who spent a decade at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, he has what seems to be a comfortable position as the Director of Policy Research at The Tokyo Foundation. The thought of the soft-spoken Watanabe T. atop some sound truck giving campaign speeches to knots of elderly strangers or empty parking lots simply boggles the imagination.
Of course, one influential group would be thrilled to tears if Watanabe T. were to run for and win a Diet seat: the U.S. Japan policy establishment. "Nabe," as he is commonly known in Washington circles, would be considered a trustworthy DPJ shepherd of the Japan-U.S. alliance, a role that has been monopolized until now by Special Advisor to the Prime Minister Nagashima Akihisa or "Aki," as he is commonly known.*
The Washington policy establishment has no say in this intra-party kerfuffle **, of course. However, wise persons in the U.S. Japan policy community might want to email Watanabe the Younger and ask him, "Nabe, do you really want to run for a Diet seat?"
* It seems that anything more than two syllables taxes the Washington imagination.
** Watanabe Kozo is not the only problematic party elder. Fellow senior advisor and former Magistrate Hata wants his son to inherit his House of Representatives seat.