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Will Yuriko Koike make it as Japan’s first woman PM?

September 21st, 2008

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Wikimedia Commons

But Taro Aso is the strong favourite to be the LDP’s fourth leader this term

Following Tzipi Livni’s 431-vote victory in the Kadima leadership this week, five contenders are lined up to take over the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) in Japan tomorrow. Unlike Livni, who has her work cut out trying to put a coalition together (maybe a 50% chance at best) before she can become Israel’s PM, whoever follows Yasuo Fukuda at the LDP helm will certainly become Prime Minister in Tokyo.

Along with Ireland’s Fianna Fáil and Sweden’s Social Democrats (and indeed the Canadian Liberals too), Japan’s LDP is a party that has enjoyed long periods in government. Indeed, only one LDP leader has ever failed to become Prime Minister. However, in terms of Prime Ministerial longevity, Japan and the LDP are currently on a par with the “revolving-door” politics of Italy in the 1980s. Every September for the last four years has been a month of upheaval in Japanese politics.

    September 2005 saw Junichiro Koizumi win a convincing election victory for the LDP – but a year later he stepped down to be replaced by Shinzo Abe. Abe in his turn made way for Yasuo Fukuda in September 2007, and this month will see another new face at the top. This will be Japan’s fourth leader of the current term, which puts into perspective the debate in the UK as to whether or not a third PM would necessitate a snap general election. Japan does not need to hold an election until September (when else?) 2009, although an early poll this autumn is now expected.

Unlike the Kadima primary which was open to party members and where thousands of ballots were cast across Israel, the LDP version is a much more closed affair, with an electorate of just 500 or so MPs and other elected officials. The frontrunner is Taro Aso, currently the LDP’s Secretary General, and who also served as Foreign Minister under both Koizumi and Abe. This is Aso’s third attempt at the leadership, losing to Abe in 2006, and also standing against Fukuda a year ago, losing by 330 votes to 197. Aso is seen as conservative and hawkish, and is also a manga fan – shares in manga companies rose during his last leadership bid.

Meanwhile, Yuriko Koike has become the first woman to seek the premiership in Japan’s history. She was Defence Minister under Abe, but has only been in the LDP since 2003 – and indeed has been in no fewer than five different parties since 1992. In launching her bid, she stated: “In order to break through the deadlock facing Japanese society, I believe the country might as well have a female candidate. Hillary used the word ‘glass ceiling’ … but in Japan, it isn’t glass, it’s an iron plate. I’m not Mrs Thatcher, but what is needed is a strategy that advances a cause with conviction, clear policies and sympathy with the people.”

    Koike may not be the favourite to win, but she has however received the backing of former PM Koizumi – and merely by standing she has blazed a trail for women at the top level of Japanese politics. Might a good showing in tomorrow’s leadership election mark her out as a possible future leader of the LDP?

The new Prime Minister is expected to dissolve the Diet and call a general election which could be as early as 26th October – and although the LDP’s popularity has slumped recently, another term for them could be on the cards, a strong challenge from the DPJ notwithstanding.

    International round-up

As well as Livni’s victory, there has been a great deal of other international news this week. Ehud Olmert has today resigned as PM in Israel, but will stay as caretaker while she attempts to form a coalition. Thabo Mbeki has resigned as president in South Africa after the ANC called on him to quit, while rescuers continue to search in Islamabad after the suicide bomb which killed 53 people. Finally, Slovenia has voted today and results (in English) are available here as counting progresses.

Double Carpet






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