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

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 September, 2016, 2:08pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 September, 2016, 10:25pm

Japan’s Democratic Party selected acting leader Renho as its new leader Thursday, making the 48-year-old the first woman to head the nation’s main opposition party.

Renho, also a former Cabinet minister for administrative reform, beat out former foreign minister Seiji Maehara and lower house lawmaker Yuichiro Tamaki in the leadership race despite fumbling questions over her dual nationality toward the end of the two-week-long contest.

Her relative youth and her calm demeanour before the media may aid the party as it seeks to wrestle power from the ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party following its predecessor party’s election rout in 2012 after three years of disappointing rule.

Departing party leader Katsuya Okada had declared he would not seek to retain the leadership following the party’s lackluster showing in the July House of Councillors election.

The result became clear at a party convention in Tokyo, where the party’s Diet lawmakers and those approved to run in future Diet elections cast their votes after postal votes from regional assembly members and party supporters nationwide were counted.

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Renho is primarily tasked with improving the party’s credibility as a real alternative to the LDP in the next House of Representatives election, the timing of which depends on when Abe exercises his discretion as prime minister to dissolve the chamber.

She will also have to decide whether to continue Okada’s election strategy of jointly campaigning with the Japanese Communist Party and other smaller opposition parties despite ideological differences.

Renho will lead the party at a time when the LDP and likeminded lawmakers are seeking to revise the Japanese Constitution after being empowered by the supermajority they have in both houses of parliament following the upper house election.

During the leadership campaign that began on September 2, Renho promised to protect at all costs the Constitution’s war-renouncing Article 9, and participate proactively in constitutional reform commissions to be held in each Diet house so the party’s views can be heard.

During the brief administration of the Democratic Party of Japan, which merged with the smaller Japan Innovation Party in March to form the current Democratic Party, Renho served as minister in charge of consumer affairs and food safety as well as for administrative reform.

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She captured public attention in the role for grilling bureaucrats and picking apart their budget requests.

Renho, whose real name is Renho Murata but goes by her given name as a politician, was born in Japan to a Taiwanese father and Japanese mother and naturalised as a Japanese citizen in 1985 aged 17. She was first elected to the upper house in 2004 and represents the Tokyo constituency.

Renho, a former swimsuit model, admitted Tuesday to having retained Taiwanese nationality, something discouraged but not penalised by Japan’s nationality law, but argued that she had done so unknowingly and had already begun the process of relinquishing it.