Renho Murata must reawaken Japan’s docile opposition

New leader must restore trust and build credibility as she attempts to keep in check Shinzo Abe’s nationalist policies

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 September, 2016, 12:17am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 September, 2016, 6:23pm

Shinzo Abe took the presidency of Japan’s dominant Liberal Democratic Party four years ago this month and come December, will have held the prime minister’s job for the same amount of time. Such longevity is unusual in Japanese politics, where popular opinion rather than scheduled elections have for decades determined whether a leader stays or goes. That would seem to indicate public confidence in the incumbent and his agenda. But with a number of his policies lacking the support of voters, that is not the case; rather, it is a sign of the weakness of opponents.

Renho Murata’s taking office on October 1 as leader of the main opposition Democratic Party will hopefully change that. The second woman to lead a major Japanese party and just 48 years old, she is a fresh face in a political environment dominated by men in their 60s and older. Commonly known simply as Renho, her background is also markedly different, having been born in Japan to a Taiwanese father and Japanese mother and working as a model and television presenter before entering politics. Her immediate task will be to restore trust and build unity.

Half-Taiwanese Renho becomes first woman to lead Japan’s main opposition Democratic Party

Not in Japan’s post-war years has the opposition been so frail. Although the LDP has been dominant for all but two brief periods in that time, its opponents were at least able to dictate terms and even block some policies. The DP, then known as the Democratic Party of Japan, lost public confidence when it held power from 2009 to 2012. It had the misfortune of governing when the devastating earthquake and tsunami hit in 2011, but its leaders were also inept in their handling of issues like the relocation of an American airbase in Okinawa.

Such frailty is troubling given Abe’s nationalism and efforts to turn his country’s back on its militaristic past. Popular opinion is against his push to change the constitution’s Article 9 “peace clause” to enable a fully fledged defence force.

Only a united opposition with a strong voice can ensure debate that reflects a broad consensus and the ability to moderate policy excesses.

This story has been corrected to reflect that Renho was born in Japan not Taiwan.