Candidate, 94, uses funeral fund for Japan election

December 14, 2012 8:18 am


Ryokichi Kawashima (L), a 94-year-old candidate for the December 16 general election speaks to a voter/AFP
Japan, Dec 14 – A 94-year-old man who cashed in his funeral savings to use as an election deposit was out canvassing for votes Friday, just two days ahead of Japan’s general election.

Ryokichi Kawashima, the oldest candidate in the race for the lower house this Sunday, says he felt he had to get involved in politics to stop the younger generation making such a mess of things.

“I’m running on behalf of the weak,” Kawashima, one of 1,504 candidates vying for 480 seats in the House of Representatives, told AFP in Hanyu north of Tokyo on Friday.

He said he had been motivated to come out of retirement by worries over right-leaning candidates like former conservative prime minister Shinzo Abe, 58, and former Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara, who is 80.

“They are talking about transforming the Self-Defence Forces into a full-fledged ‘armed forces’. If these people take office, Japan will become a country that easily deploys troops,” Kawashima said as he canvassed for votes.

“We surrendered unconditionally in the war. I am worried about what Japan has become,” said the nonagenarian, a veteran of World War II who spent four years on the frontline in China, where he saw fellow soldiers killed.

Kawashima, who has a shock of white hair and uses a walking frame, withdrew three million yen ($36,000) from his savings for his election deposit.

“I’ve saved my pension money as expenses for my own funeral,” said Kawashima, who lives alone. “Honestly speaking, I may not be able to win but I want to state my case.”

Kawashima’s campaign has been a low-budget affair — he hand-made the sash bearing his name that candidates customarily wear — but he has done his best to engage with voters just a fraction of his age.

On Friday he talked to three 20-year-old women at the train station, telling them Japan had become too unequal.

“Our constitution guarantees that everyone has the right to a minimum standard of living, but the gap between the rich and poor is widening,” he said.

Kawashima says his eyesight and mind are both still sharp for his battle against five candidates from established political parties.

Japan is one of the world’s oldest countries, with almost a quarter of its 128 million people over 60. That figure is expected to rise to 40 percent within the next half-century.

Opinion polls published Friday suggest the establishment Liberal Democratic Party, which draws its support mainly from the ageing countryside, on course for an easy victory.

Commentators say the voter profile is heavily skewed — fewer than half of eligible voters in their 20s went to polling stations at the last election, compared with nearly 85 percent of electors aged in their 60s.

The youngest candidate in this Sunday’s poll is Kazuya Aoki, a former aide to a member of parliament, who turns 25 — the minimum age for a member of parliament — on Saturday.


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