Last spring, Jun Saito GRD ’05 was writing his doctoral thesis in political science on electoral politics in Japan. Now, with his thesis on hold, Saito will experience the real thing.
On Oct. 27, Saito won a Japanese parliamentary election in his native Yamagata prefecture, replacing Koichi Kato, a member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, or LDP. Kato resigned in April after a financial mismanagement scandal came to light early this year, forcing what is known as a by-election. Saito said in an e-mail that Kato was a major figure in the LDP and a viable candidate to be the next prime minister of Japan.
Saito said the current state of Japanese politics provided incentive for him to run for office.
“I was not willing to tolerate what was happening in my hometown: massive corruption and poor economic performance,” Saito said. “I thought that poor policy management, arising from corruption, would be one of the root causes of the current economic stagnation in the region.”
Saito’s thesis advisor, political science director of graduate studies Frances Rosenbluth, said Saito was frustrated by the slowness of Japan’s efforts at reform.
“He wanted to be a force for political reform and economic rejuvenation,” Rosenbluth said.
Saito’s Democratic Party of Japan, or DPJ, did not win any of the six other by-elections, Rosenbluth said.
“He wasn’t riding a wave,” Rosenbluth said. “He really created his own victory.”
Political science professor Anastassios Kalandrakis, who sat on Saito’s dissertation committee, said Saito ran a good campaign.
“He ran in a tough district,” Kalandrakis said. “It was not at all obvious that he could win — it was not an easy task.”
Kato was prohibited from running in this year’s by-election, but is likely to run in the general election two years from now, Saito said.
Rosenbluth said Kato has a loyal constituency, but if Saito can convince voters that he stands for reform, he has a good chance of beating Kato in two years.
“Jun is one cog in a big machine,” Rosenbluth said. “Kato is a big wheel. It’s not clear who will win.”
Saito said his goals for his new position include reforming the party system, stimulating the Japanese economy through decentralization, invigorating agriculture and increasing jobs in the industrial sector of his region.
Saito said he and his wife will miss being a part of the Yale community, but if he continues to get re-elected, it will be difficult for him to continue work on his dissertation.
“I need to spare as much time as possible for the benefit of the residents in the district as well as for citizens of the world at large,” Saito said.
Rosenbluth said Saito is a rare case in that he can analyze politics as an academic and practice politics as a politician.
“He has a real passion for politics,” Rosenbluth said. “He was really a great graduate student. I had high hopes for him — I hope that he’ll be one of the players for change — if the dissertation has to be sacrificed, so be it.”
Kalandrakis said he is disappointed that Saito will not finish his thesis, but is happy that he is doing something so exciting.
“We hope that he can win two years from now,” Kalandrakis said. “He’s definitely going to give a hard time to his opponent.”