Women in Japanese Politics:
Part Eight – Japan's First Female Lower House Speaker Bows out of Frontline Politics
J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM)
A full list of articles in this series can be found here.
Despite a modest increase in the number of female lawmakers during the past decade, national politics is still predominately an all-male preserve. When future historians chart the progress of women in the political world, the name of Takako Doi will stand out as the most important of the Twentieth Century. Foremost amongst Doi's many achievements were being elected the first woman to head a Japanese political party and becoming the nation's first woman Speaker of the Lower House.
After a long and illustrious career, Doi has finally resigned from frontline politics to take responsibility for her Social Democratic Party's crushing defeat in the Lower House election. The party was reduced from 18 seats to just 6. This is a tragic end to the career of a woman who Japanese history will record as one of the most significant female figures of the last century.
Doi was first elected to the Lower House on 27 December 1969 as a Japan Socialist Party lawmaker from Hyogo Prefecture. Before entering politics, she had been a well-known academic at Doshisha University, specializing in constitutional matters. Her passion for defending Japan's war-renouncing constitution was a lifelong commitment that defined her career. Unlike so many of her male counterparts, she was a true conviction politician, who drew her strength from a deep-seated belief that the constitution's war-renouncing Article 9 should never be revised.
Doi's amazing drive, charisma and great political skill eventually propelled her to the top of her party and in 1986 she became chairwoman of the Japan Socialist Party (JSP). Under her shrewd leadership, the party scored a major victory in the 1989 House of Councilors election. The JSP made spectacular gains at the expense of the long-dominant Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Doi's honest, straightforward manner appealed to many female voters and this combined with the LDP government's unpopular consumption tax gave the JSP an impressive win. Many women were also elected to the Upper House in what the media rather unfairly labeled the "madonna boom." The JSP captured 46 more Upper House seats that the LDP.
The defeat of the mighty LDP at the hands of a woman won Doi international recognition. In the February 1990 Lower House election, the JSP also made advances, but not enough to dislodge the LDP from power. The following year, Doi's luck ran out and the JSP did badly in the Unified Local Elections. She resigned to take responsibility for the setback, but remained a prominent figure in the party.
In the August 1993 Lower House election, the combined strength of opposition parties was enough to knock the LDP from power. Under the first non-LDP government since 1955, Doi gained the post of Speaker of the Lower House; the first woman to hold the office.
In 1996, the JSP changed its name to the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Doi returned as party leader once more. However, she inherited a party in steep decline as a great many SDP lawmakers had defected to the newly formed Democratic Party of Japan. Doi's personal popularity helped stabilize the party's fortunes. However a recent money scandal involving a prominent SDP politician and a strong public perception that the party was soft on North Korea spelt political disaster for the SDP. Doi resigned to take responsibility for the party's massacre in the polls.
It will be difficult for the SDP to recover from such a crushing defeat and it now seems almost certain that Doi's political achievements will out live her party. In the future, when Japan has its first woman Prime Minister, it will be in no small measure thanks to the groundbreaking work done by Takako Doi.
Doi's Main Political Accomplishments
- In September 1986 Doi became Japan's first female leader of a political party, when she was elected the tenth chairperson of the Japan Socialist Party.
- As JSP leader Doi wins the 1989 Upper House election, which saw many female JSP candidates elected.
- In August 1993, Doi became Japan's first ever female Speaker of the Lower House.
- In 1996 she returns to the post of party leader for the Social Democratic Party
Other Articles in Women in Japanese Politics Series can be found here.
Japan's Margaret Thatcher Quits after Poll Fiasco
Hitoshi Urabe, News Review #175, 17 November 2003
Two-Party System Finally Emerges in Japan
J. Sean Curtin, Debates, GLOCOM Platform, 10 November 2003
Women in Japanese Politics: Part Seven – Fewer Women Elected in November 2003 Lower House Election
Social Trends: Series #60, GLOCOM Platform, 13 November 2003