Japanese opposition party elects half-Taiwanese female leader

Ms Renho with a competitor for the post, Mr Seiji Maehara (left), and present party chief Katsuya Okada at the Democratic Party's convention yesterday. The current ruling party has never had a female leader.
Ms Renho with a competitor for the post, Mr Seiji Maehara (left), and present party chief Katsuya Okada at the Democratic Party's convention yesterday. The current ruling party has never had a female leader.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Despite flak over dual nationality, Renho becomes first woman to lead the party

TOKYO • A half-Taiwanese former newscaster won a landslide victory in an election for the leadership of Japan's main opposition Democratic Party (DP), despite criticism over a last-minute revelation that she had dual nationality.

Victory in yesterday's party leadership election makes Ms 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 a former finance ministry bureaucrat, Mr Yuichiro Tamaki, 47.

She received 503 of a total of 849 points in the election, calculated from the weighted votes of lawmakers and other party members, compared with 230 for Mr Maehara and 116 for Mr Tamaki.

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

Her party 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 want to stand at the front of the party and rebuild it without fail into one that voters will choose," she told the party at a Tokyo hotel after the results were announced.

"What we must do now is face up to the massive ruling party."

She told reporters earlier this week that she ran to become the first woman leader of the party. "Even that in itself opens up new possibilities for women," she said, adding that she also wanted to increase the number of female lawmakers.

Her victory follows on the heels of Ms Yuriko Koike becoming the first female governor of Tokyo and Ms Tomomi Inada being appointed Japan's second woman defence minister. But female representation in Japan's Parliament remains far lower than in most developed nations at 157th in the world.

While surveys have shown Ms 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, Ms Renho acknowledged that her Taiwanese nationality had remained valid.

The law requires those with dual citizenship to choose one by age 22 and, when opting for Japan, endeavour to renounce the other nationality. But there is no penalty for not doing so.

Ms Renho had previously said she believed paperwork to renounce her Taiwanese citizenship had been completed when she was a teenager but was recently notified by the de facto Taiwanese embassy in Japan that her Taiwanese citizenship was still valid.

"I would like to apologise for the recent trouble I have caused by my unclear memory and statements," she said in a speech ahead of the vote.

Ms Renho drew plaudits while serving on a government cost-cutting panel for grilling bureau- crats over what were seen as wasteful projects. She said this week that Japan must tackle its most urgent problem - its shrinking population - by sharing its wealth with the next generation.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 16, 2016, with the headline 'Japanese opposition party elects half-Taiwanese female leader'. Print Edition | Subscribe