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Date of Issue:16/February/2004

Takako Doifs Social Democratic Party Suffers Crushing Defeat in General Election

Masao Awano
Freelance journalist

Takako Doifs Social Democratic Party was roundly defeated in the recent general election. Where the party had built up ties with socialist countries since its days as the Japan Socialist Party, the fruits of its relationship with China and the Soviet Union went to the Liberal Democratic Party, with North Korea bringing the party down altogether over the abduction issue.

Evaluations of last fallfs general election were mixed, with some viewing the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) as having made enormous progress, and others interpreting the DPJfs failure to take power as a victory for the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). However, it was the Japan Social Democratic Party (JSDP) that really felt the end of an era, with a crushing defeat reducing the partyfs seats from 18 to six. Party leader Takako Doifs defeat in her constituency (Nishinomiya City and Ashiya City in Hyogo Prefecture) epitomized the extent of the debacle.

The major factor running against the party was North Korea. This had nothing to do with nuclear weapons. For the purpose of the elections, North Korea was simply about the abduction of Japanese citizens. Since the shocking Japan-North Korea summit in September 2002, the eyes of the public had been firmly fixed on the families of those abducted, and those victims who immediately afterward returned to Japan for the first time in twenty-five years.

Overly focused on friendly relations with North Korea, the JSDP had insisted that the abductions could not have taken place. The party admitted its mistake and apologized, but it was already too late. The LDP candidate standing neck and neck with Doi in her home constituency, LDP newcomer and Hyogo Dietman Shigeo Ohmae skillfully developed his 1996 questions to the local Diet about the abductions into a political platform. Accompanied by the parents of Keiko Arimoto, a Kobe woman thought to have been kidnapped while studying in Europe and whose whereabouts are still unknown, he attacked the JSDP and Doi. When campaigning for their daughterfs return, her parents were told that with Japan having no formal diplomatic ties with North Korea, it was the JSDP that had the strongest connections. However, when Arimotofs parents went to Doifs office, they were in fact ignored. When General Secretary Kim Jong-Ilfs office was shown on television, the name of Masashi Ishibashi, former party chairman, could even be seen on an award sent to the North Korean leader.

The public was also exposed on a daily basis to the tragic figures of the parents of Megumi Yokota, kidnapped at the age of 14 and reported dead by the North Korean authorities. With the elections in sight, certain politicians developed a sudden interest in the abduction issue, and with public sympathy going out to the abduction victims, the JSDPfs image inevitably suffered.

In its previous incarnation as the Japan Socialist Party (JSP), the JSDP had worked to build friendly relations with the socialist countries of China, the Soviet Union and North Korea. However, rather than the JSP or, later, the JDSP, reaping a harvest from these efforts, the LDP managed to take the credit in key areas. Restoring diplomatic relations with China, for example, was an issue taken up by the whole party. The heavy emphasis placed by former JSP leader Inejiro Asunuma on friendly ties between Japan and China caused former Prime Minister and LDP member Nobusuke Kishi to brand him as the hand of communism, and he was eventually stabbed to death by the right wing for his pains. Then, when the historic restoration of Japan-China relations did occur in 1971, the figure at center-stage was Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka, another LDP member. Prime Minister Tanaka remained a state guest in China until the day he died, despite his later arrest for corruption. Improving Japan-Soviet relations was viewed as a JSDP platform, but the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union put an end to that. Even during the Soviet era, Communist Party leaders were more interested in the LDP with its strong backing from the financial world than in the JSDP. The only card left to the JSDP was its strong connections with North Korea, and that, unfortunately, proved to be its downfall.

The other factor going against the JSDP was a scandal within the party. Lower House legislator and representative of an Osaka constituency Kiyomi Tsujimoto, who had been tagged as one of the partyfs most promising members, was the subject of a dramatic arrest for fraud in relation to wages paid to a non-existent secretary. While regarded by many as unfair, Doifs own secretary was also arrested, placing the JSDP in an increasingly tenuous position. Where Doi had previously been virtually absent from her own constituency as she went around campaigning for those candidates known as eDoifs childrenf and dependent on her personal popularity, this time she somehow made her way in to push her 75-year-old body to its limits and wear her throat hoarse opposing the dispatch of the SDF to Iraq. Despite winning in the proportional representation bloc, she stood down as party leader, leaving the post to another woman, Mizuho Fukushima. However, growing concern about the abduction issue and other problems has since driven many party members to move over to the DPJ.

In the 1980s, Takako Doi accrued enormous popularity for her criticism of LDP corruption, her support of the current Constitution and calls for peace, and her opposition to the consumption tax, and she was subsequently appointed as Speaker of the House. While sometimes viewed as having been supported by the eMadonna boomf that took many women into political careers, both women and men admired her work as a serious scholar of constitutional law. Typically, Doi insisted on taking full responsibility for the partyfs defeat. As someone who grew up under the Doi poster, I have found the battered and bruised exit of the woman party leader who once emoved mountainsf to be a painful sight indeed.


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