Japan's opposition Democratic Party elects half-Taiwanese Renho as leader

Ms Renho, a candidate for the presidential election of Japan's main opposition Democratic Party, on Sept 13, 2016.
Ms Renho, a candidate for the presidential election of Japan's main opposition Democratic Party, on Sept 13, 2016. PHOTO: AFP
Ms Renho poses in front of her poster during an interview with Reuters in Tokyo on Aug 16, 2016.
Ms Renho poses in front of her poster during an interview with Reuters in Tokyo on Aug 16, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS
Ms Renho speaks during an interview with Reuters in Tokyo.
Ms Renho speaks during an interview with Reuters in Tokyo. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (Bloomberg) – A half-Taiwanese former newscaster was elected as leader of Japan’s main opposition Democratic Party on Thursday (Sept 15), despite criticism over a last-minute revelation that she had dual nationality.

Victory in Thursday’s party leadership election makes Renho, who goes by only one name, the first woman to lead a major Japanese party since the 1990s.

The 48-year-old mother of twins, who once served as administrative reform minister, beat former foreign minister Seiji Maehara, 54, and Yuichiro Tamaki, 47, a former finance ministry bureaucrat.

Putting a woman of mixed parentage at the helm helps differentiate the Democrats from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which has never had a female leader. 

Her party, known as DP, failed to offer a clear alternative in July’s upper house election and lost seats. Polls put the party’s support rate at less than 10 per cent, compared with about 40 per cent for the LDP.

“I am running in order to become the first woman leader of the party,” Renho told reporters in Tokyo this week. 

“Even that in itself opens up new possibilities for women,” she said, adding that she also wanted to increase the number of female lawmakers.

 

NATIONALITY QUESTIONS 

While surveys have shown Renho to be the most popular of the three candidates among the public, she has run into trouble over her nationality. Born in Tokyo to a Taiwanese father and a Japanese mother, she said early in her campaign that she had renounced her Taiwanese nationality when she obtained Japanese citizenship as a teenager.  

This week, Renho acknowledged that her Taiwanese nationality had remained valid. Dual nationality isn’t permitted in Japan and she apologised for what she said was a mistake.

‘UNDERSIRABLE SUSPICIONS’  

“Although Taiwan is friendly toward Japan, it is in conflict with the Japanese standpoint regarding some issues, for instance, its ownership claims on the Senkaku Islands,” the conservative Yomiuri newspaper said in an editorial, using the Japanese name for disputed islands known as Diaoyu in China. 

“If Renho retains her Taiwan citizenship, she could become the target of undesirable suspicions regarding her relations with Taiwan.” 

Renho drew plaudits while serving on a government cost- cutting panel for grilling bureaucrats over what were seen as wasteful projects. She was also criticised for suggesting Japan should be content with the world’s second-best supercomputer, rather than plowing more money into research.

Renho said this week that Japan must tackle its most urgent problem – its falling population – by sharing its wealth with the next generation. Spending on education and social welfare would ensure that young people become taxpayers, she said.

An opinion poll published by the Yomiuri newspaper Tuesday found that Renho was seen by 47 per cent of respondents as the most appropriate person to lead the party, compared with 31 percent for Maehara and 5 per cent for the relatively unknown Tamaki. The survey was conducted before Renho’s disclosure about her nationality.