Could this be the year of Japan’s first female prime minister?

Japan’s Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa is currently attracting a lot of attention. — AFP

WHILE it is unclear whether the Koishikawa Alliance will work together again, female candidates for Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) president are suddenly attracting attention. As approval ratings for the cabinet of its current president and Japan prime minister Fumio Kishida continue to slump, some believe that the LDP will try to turn the tide by electing its first female party president.

The person currently attracting the most attention is Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa. In January, LDP vice president Taro Aso suddenly mentioned Kamikawa in a speech, saying, “A new star is on the rise.”

So far, Aso has supported prime minister Fumio Kishida with his faction the (ex-PM Shinzo) Abe faction, but this framework collapsed when most of the factions dissolved.

Given the praise for Kamikawa in the midst of this, there is speculation in political circles that Aso will support her in the presidential election.

Kamikawa is not given to flashy performances, but her solid work has been praised enough for her to be appointed justice minister three times. She is known for signing orders for the executions of 13 people on death row, including former Aum Shinrikyo founder Chizuo Matsumoto, who went by the name of Shoko Asahara. Some politicians admit they would have hesitated to carry out that death penalty for fear of retaliation against themselves and their families by Aum affiliates. Many people have praised her, and even some in other parties have said that she has done a job that men could not easily do. Kamikawa herself has not stated whether she aspires to become prime minister, but there is no doubt that she is one of the most notable female candidates.

In addition, there are other female candidates who are also rumoured to run. Two who ran in 2021 and who have made no secret of their desire to run again are former Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Seiko Noda, who ran as a non-factional candidate last time, and Economic Security Minister Sanae Takaichi.

And rumours are going around about another potential candidate in the Nagatacho political district: It’s Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, who would be the biggest surprise if she runs. Koike has not yet made her stance clear regarding the Tokyo gubernatorial election to be held in July this year, and there has been talk of her possibly moving to national politics.

Koike has been fully demonstrating her potential as the governor of Tokyo, and also as a key player for several local elections since last October, since she’s serving as a special advisor for the party called Tokyo Citizens First Association.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike has not yet made her stance clear regarding the Tokyo gubernatorial election to be held in July this year, and there has been talk of her possibly moving to national politics. —The StarTokyo Governor Yuriko Koike has not yet made her stance clear regarding the Tokyo gubernatorial election to be held in July this year, and there has been talk of her possibly moving to national politics. —The Star

Some within the LDP point out that Koike became the first female defence minister and the first female governor of Tokyo, and firmly believe that she is aiming to become the first female prime minister. If Koike returns to national politics and runs for LDP president, there is fear in Nagatacho that all the current LDP candidates aiming to succeed Kishida will be blown away.

In 2005, as environment minister, Koike gained popularity with the Cool Biz campaign, which encouraged office workers to wear lighter and more casual outfits during summertime to reduce air conditioner use. In the 2016 gubernatorial election, she announced that she would run as an independent to “stand against the old LDP structure,’’ and won the election. She is good at disseminating information and has been praised for her performance. If she were to return to national politics, there is no doubt she would immediately steal the spotlight.

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the first female leader of a Group of Seven nation, took office in 1979. Forty-five years later, it is good news that Japan is finally coming close to having its own female prime minister.

The Thatcher government, which was expected to be short-lived, lasted more than 11 years. Even before she entered politics, Thatcher had written an article for a newspaper called the Sunday Graphic in 1952, the year Queen Elizabeth ascended the throne. Headlined “Wake up, Women,” it advocated for the advancement of women’s status. While Thatcher cannot be given exclusive credit, the participation of women in British politics increased to a remarkable degree in the 40 years after she became prime minister. Only 19 women won House of Commons seats in the 1979 general election that brought her government into power. But in the 2019 general election, that number reached an all-time high of 220.

Britain now ranks 15th in the Global Gender Gap Index. Will Japan ever catch up?

In Japan, a country with a conspicuous gender gap, a political breakthrough could happen this year.

In the 2023 edition of the “Global Gender Gap Report” released by the World Economic Forum in June last year, Japan’s rank on the Global Gender Gap Index was 125th out of 146 countries, falling nine places from the previous year to its lowest level ever. Japan scored even worse on the Political Empowerment subindex, ranking a dismal 138th. With women holding only 10% of seats in the House of Representatives and just 8.3% of ministerial posts, it was made clear once again that the gender gap has not been closed.

However, this situation may change because several women are being talked about as candidates for the LDP presidential election to be held this fall, when the term of the current party president, Kishida, expires. — The Yomiuri Shimbun/ANN

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