Women on top

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 September, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 September, 2005, 12:00am

The parliamentary election in Japan was full of thrilling drama. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi set it in motion by unexpectedly dissolving the Diet. Then he sent 'assassin' candidates to defeat party rebels who opposed him, and handpicked dozens of new candidates, including many young people and women, shattering the stereotype of traditional Japanese politicians.

Last Sunday's voting ended with surprises, too. With an extremely high turnout of about 68 per cent, Mr Koizumi's ruling Liberal Democratic Party had an unprecedented landslide victory and won a more than comfortable majority in the powerful lower house. Now he is, in theory, free to force acceptance of his controversial policies, like privatising the postal system and maintaining a pro-US diplomatic stance. A record 43 women were sent to the 480-seat lower house. All 26 of the LDP's female candidates - including some 'assassins' - won their contests.

Japan has never seen such diverse backgrounds in female parliamentarians. Take Kuniko Inoguchi, for example: a professor of international politics at Sophia University, a mother of twin daughters, and a United Nations delegate. Hers was the top name on the party's candidate list for proportional constituency voting. Or Yukari Sato, former chief economist at Credit Suisse First Boston (Japan). She was unknown to the public, rare for an LDP MP. An 'assassin', she failed to take out rebel party member Seiko Noda in conservative Gifu, but was elected by the party nomination in the proportional representation sector.

The most successful 'assassin' was fashionable Yuriko Koike, incumbent cabinet minister for the environment and Mr Koizumi's close protege. In the fierce Tokyo constituency, she gloriously ended the political career of Mr Koizumi's outspoken opponent.

Other female LDP winners include the first woman in charge of the nation's budget at the Finance Ministry; a popular celebrity and master of an exclusive cooking school; a US-educated dentist, a former broadcaster and a civic leader.

Will they change the political landscape? Some of them can certainly inject new ideas into the policy-making process. Together, they also make up a big chunk of the 83 newly elected 'freshmen' LDP members: now the biggest group within the party, outnumbering any of the old-guard factions.

Mr Koizumi suggested the new House members stay away from those conventional factions. Already a few of the 'Koizumi Children' - as those new LDP House members are called - this week announced to follow his advice. Some say such faction-free behaviour may bring out new rhythm in Japanese politics.