Academic journal article Journal of East Asian Studies

The DPJ and Women: The Limited Impact of the 2009 Alternation of Power on Policy and Governance

Academic journal article Journal of East Asian Studies

The DPJ and Women: The Limited Impact of the 2009 Alternation of Power on Policy and Governance

Article excerpt

The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) saw forty of its forty-six female candidates elected in the 2009 lower house election; twenty-six were first-time candidates. Recently, both the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the DPJ have supported more women as "change" candidates in response to changing electoral incentives that favor broad appeals. The DPJ's victory, however, has not had a large impact on women in terms of governance or policy. An exploration of child allowance, day care provision, and dual surname legislation under the DPJ reveals that low seniority and the lack of a critical mass have prevented DPJ women from overcoming significant veto points. The electoral incentives of the emerging two-party system have resulted in a larger number of women in office, but the volatility of the system has sustained a weak voice for women in policymaking. KEYWORDS: Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), women, elections, child allowances, day care, dual surname, critical mass

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BOTH THE 2005 AND 2009 LOWER HOUSE ELECTIONS IN JAPAN BROKE records for female representation. Specifically, the number of women elected increased from thirty-four in 2003 to forty-three in 2005, with women increasing their representation from 7.1 percent to 9.4 percent of the 480 seats. The majority of this increase came from the success of women in the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Twenty-six women were elected in the LDP; sixteen were first-time candidates. In this election, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi strategically nominated a significant number of conservative women to run against the postal rebels he had kicked out of the party. In 2009, the total number of women in the lower house increased further to fifty-four, constituting 11.3 percent of the total seats. Significantly, however, a large number of women elected under Koizumi did not retain their seats. Instead, this increase is largely related to the support of women candidates by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). The DPJ saw forty of its forty-six female candidates elected; twenty-six were new candidates. The success of these women was part of the DPJ's landside victory over the LDP, marking what many see as the beginning of true party alternation in Japanese politics.

In this article, I explore the implications of party alternation for women in politics in Japan. Overall, the DPJ's ascendance to power has not had a large impact on women in terms of either governance or policy, at least in the short term. This outcome is related to the more strategic, as opposed to institutionalized, support of women in elections and the relative lack of seniority of female legislators in general. The electoral incentives of the emerging two-party system have resulted in a larger number of women in office, but the volatility of the system has sustained a weak voice for women in policymaking.

The increasing trend in female representation at least partially reflects the changes in the electoral environment over the past decade and a half. As Kenneth McElwain (2012) points out, elections have become nationalized in recent years. In addition, the two-party system has stabilized. Moreover, Ethan Scheiner (2012) illustrates how party competition has increasingly centered on valence issues. The LDP's and the DPJ's support of women in recent elections backs this assertion. In the midst of economic stagnation and high voter disillusionment, female candidates cast as "change" candidates can potentially tap into a larger portion of the electorate.

The new electoral environment also has increased the potential for larger partisan swings, as seen in 2005 and 2009. Much of the success of LDP women in 2005 and DPJ women in 2009 is related to the fact that LDP candidates tended to win in 2005 and DPJ candidates tended to win in 2009, irrespective of gender. Partisan affiliation was the greatest predictor of success for newcomers in single-member districts (SMDs) in 2005 and 2009 (Reed, Scheiner, and Thies 2012). …

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