Two outstanding female house speakers in Japan

(Posted on September 15, 2023)

 

I would like to talk about two female politicians, who became house speakers.

Let’s start with Doi Takako (1928-2014), a constitutional scholar and socialist. Doi was elected as a member of the House of Representatives

(the lower house) in 1969 and belonged to the Japan Socialist Party (JSP). 

 

 

Except for a very short period from 1947 to 1948 when the JSP managed to be in power in a coalition government, the JSP had been on the side line as a “permanent opposition party.” The party was almost always beset with internal factional conflicts among various groups that included Marxists on the furthest left to social democrats on the right. With this background, Doi managed to climb the ladder, becoming assistant chairperson of the party in 1983. As a result of a 1986 general election defeat, an incumbent JSP chairperson resigned: Doi became chairperson as the first ever female to hold that position.        

 

The JSP under Doi did not fare that well as the party seemed to always object to government policies and bills covering domestic (especially opposing the introduction of consumer tax), foreign and national security matters (opposed to the proposed changes to the “pacifist” constitution), rather than presenting the party’s agenda in a clear and decisive way. Having said that it was Doi who managed to buoy the party especially among female voters; she tended to speak in an assuring and definitive way. But a decisive defeat in the 1991 local elections led to Doi’s resignation.

 

Interestingly, the political tide turned to JSP’s favor when incumbent conservative party or the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which had become probably too arrogant or negligent, fared poorly in the 1993 general election and failed to form its own government. The JSP managed to set up a coalition government. Under this background, Doi was elected as the first ever female speaker of the House of Representatives in the same year. Doi was in that stint for three years until she resigned in 1996. Did you know that the JSP came to an end in 1996 and disintegrated into several new political parties? Doi remained as a member of the House of Representatives until 2005. 

 

 

Then enters Chikage Oogi (1933-2023), who became the first female speaker of the House of Councilors from 2004 to 2007. Oogi had a flamboyant background in that she was an actress and married to a famous Kabuki performer before becoming the member of the House of Councilors in 1977. She belonged to the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Oogi served as ministers for transportation and construction matters from 2000 to 2003. During her stint, she was credited for making ministerial tender procedures more open and clearer. Oogi retired entirely from politics after resigning as house speaker in 2007.

 

Both Doi and Oogi exerted themselves as assertive and competent female politicians from their different perspectives. When can we expect a female prime minister in Japan?

 

Here is some information on the women’s political movement.

Did you know that women’ suffrage once managed to get momentum when a bill for that purpose was passed in the Lower House in 1931? However, it was rejected by the Upper House (the House of Peers). Immediately after the war, women’s suffrage was at last realized in 1945. The first general election in 1946 created 39 female members of the Lower House. The first female minister was Nakayama Masa as minister of health in 1960.

 

 

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