2 women, political opposites, vie for Japan PM

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TOKYO (AP) – The inclusion of two women among the four candidates vying for the office of next prime minister appears to be a huge step forward for Japan’s notoriously sexist policies. But her fate lies in the hands of a conservative, mostly male ruling party – and the top candidate is criticized by observers for her right-wing gender policy.

Sanae Takaichi and Seiko Noda are the first women in 13 years to seek leadership of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in an election on Wednesday. The winner will be the next prime minister thanks to a parliamentary majority of the LDP and its coalition partner.

Although both are LDP members, they are political opposites in many ways. The ultra-conservative Takaichi advocates a kind of paternalistic nationalism and a stronger military, while the liberal-minded pacifist Noda supports the advancement of women and sexual diversity.

“As a tiny minority in Japanese politics, women have limited opportunities to survive and thrive; they can face or be loyal to the boys’ club policies, ”said Mayumi Taniguchi, an expert on the role of women in society and politics at Osaka University of Arts.

Takaichi apparently opted for loyalty while Noda appears to work outside of the mainstream without being confrontational, Taniguchi said. “You are very different.”

In the race to succeed the outgoing Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, the women face off against Vaccination Minister Taro Kono and former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida. Kono and Kishida are considered the top candidates; both come from well-known political families and belong to powerful party factions.

But Takaichi is viewed by some as a fast-rising candidate, with crucial support from former leader Shinzo Abe, whose arch-conservative vision she supports. The latest media polls among party lawmakers show that it is starting to get support from party conservatives, while Noda remains firmly in fourth place.

The only other former candidate was Yuriko Koike, who is currently the governor of Tokyo and ran in 2008.

While Takaichi or Noda are unlikely to become prime ministers, the ruling party regards it as progress that two women are fighting for the top position. However, some experts criticize Takaichi’s gender policy.

“If she wins, she will most likely not promote women,” said Mari Miura, professor of political science at Sophia University. “She will highlight her achievement in breaking the glass ceiling and explain that Japan is already a gender equality country, even ahead of the United States.”

Japan ranked worst in the group of seven advanced nations – 120 in a 156-nation gender gap ranking poll by the World Economic Forum in 2021.

Women make up only about 10% of the Japanese parliament, and analysts say many are more likely to try to move forward through party loyalty than to pursue gender equality.

Takaichi has advocated women’s health and fertility, consistent with the LDP’s policy of serving women in their traditional roles as good mothers and wives, but is unlikely to promote women’s rights or sexual diversity, said Miura.

Takaichi, 60, was first elected to parliament in 1993 and is modeled on Margaret Thatcher. She served in important party and government offices, including minister for internal affairs and gender equality.

As a drummer in a heavy metal band and as a student motorcyclist, she supports the succession of the imperial family for men only and is against same-sex marriage and a revision of civil law from the 19th name.

Taniguchi, the analyst, says Takaichi’s support from the party majority “is unfortunate as its success could lead many women to think that speaking and acting on behalf of men is the way to succeed in this country”.

Takaichi, who shares Abe’s revisionist views on Japan’s war atrocities, regularly visits Yasukuni Shrine, which honors war criminals among the war dead and is viewed by China and Korea as evidence of Japan’s lack of remorse.

Your security policy includes developing a pre-emptive strike capability to counter threats from China and North Korea.

Political observers say Abe supported Takaichi because he was aware of the need to improve the party’s sexist image and also to divert voices from Kono, the current front runner and something of a loner.

Abe had promoted the advancement of women, but his party made little progress and missed the target of 30% of decision-making positions by women by 2020, postponing it by up to a decade.

Having a leader who prioritizes loyalty to men rather than fighting for the rise of other women, like Takaichi, could counter efforts to eradicate gender gaps, Professor Miura said.

While Noda would push for more equality and diversity, her gender equality policy is likely to be rejected by conservatives.

Noda, 61, supports same-sex marriage and has campaigned for a quota system to increase the number of women MPs. She has promised to appoint half of her cabinet with women if she wins.

Noda had her first disabled child at the age of 50 after fertility treatment.

Japan’s rapidly shrinking population is a serious national security risk as Japan will not have enough troops or police in the coming decades, she said in a recent campaign speech.

“I try to create a diverse society by putting people at the center of things who have not been assigned major roles in society, including children, women, the disabled and LGBTQ people,” said Noda.

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