WORLD

UPSET IN JAPAN

A SEX SCANDAL AND A NEW SALES TAX HAND JAPAN’S RULING PARTY ITS WORST ELECTORAL DEFEAT IN 34 YEARS

HOLGER JENSEN August 7 1989
WORLD

UPSET IN JAPAN

A SEX SCANDAL AND A NEW SALES TAX HAND JAPAN’S RULING PARTY ITS WORST ELECTORAL DEFEAT IN 34 YEARS

HOLGER JENSEN August 7 1989

UPSET IN JAPAN

A SEX SCANDAL AND A NEW SALES TAX HAND JAPAN’S RULING PARTY ITS WORST ELECTORAL DEFEAT IN 34 YEARS

WORLD

Seldom had a political career crumbled so fast, and never in Japan’s traditionally male-dominated society had one succumbed to a sex scandal. But women—what Japanese newspapers called the “Madonna Factor”—helped to drive Prime Minister Sousuke Uno out of office last week after less than two months on the job. Female voters, who outnumber eligible male voters by 2.7 million and boast a higher turnout, were angered by Uno’s extramarital affairs with geishas and by a new sales tax. Female candidates, who campaigned in record numbers for the July 23 election, were equally outraged by Agriculture Minister Hisao Horinouchi’s asser-

tion that women are “useless in politics.” Together, they handed the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) its worst defeat in 34 years, wiping out its majority in Japan’s influential upper house of parliament. A tearful Uno resigned the next day, saying it had been “a very difficult election.”

The biggest winner was Socialist Leader Takako Doi, the first woman to head a political party in postwar Japan, who is now in a position to mount a challenge for the premiership. Her party ended up with 66 seats in the 252member upper house—11 of them won by women—and is trying to cobble together an opposition coalition to wrest control of the

more powerful lower house, and thus the government, from the LDP. The labor-based Rengo (Confederation) Group, closely allied with the Socialists, gained another 11 seats. The LDP, meanwhile, which needed to win 54 of the 126 upper house race to retain its majority, secured only 36 seats, reducing the governing party’s presence in the chamber to 109 from 142. The LDP still has a majority of 293 seats in the 512-member lower house, which chooses the prime minister. But the upper house has veto power over all bills and can delay the budget and treaties.

Although Uno accepted the blame for his party’s worst electoral defeat since the LDP was formed in 1955, it was not entirely his fault. There was a growing perception, long before he took office on June 2, that the governing party had become arrogant and corrupted by power. Farmers, a key constituency, charged that the LDP had ruined their livelihood by lowering price supports and import barriers on some agricultural commodities. Consumer groups, spearheaded by housewives, objected to a three-per-cent sales tax on goods and services that was rammed through parliament last year. And a succession of influence-peddling scandals focused unwelcome attention on the government’s cozy relationship with big business.

Uno, a former foreign minister, was selected for the post precisely because he was untainted by the scandal that had brought down his predecessor, Noboru Takeshita. LDP power brokers maintained that he was one of the few members of their “club” who could help the party recover from the Recruit affair, in which a publishing conglomerate allegedly distributed millions of dollars in underpriced stocks and political donations to obtain favors.

It was that air of general disenchantment with the LDP that made Uno fair game. He was not the first Japanese politician to avail himself of a geisha—but he was the first to have the Japanese press write about it. Two days after he moved into the prime minister’s office, the Sunday Mainichi magazine broke a long-standing taboo on disclosing details of politicians’ private lives: it published the account of the geisha, Mitsuko Nakanishi, describing how Uno, 66, had paid her to be his mistress and mistreated her in the process.

Further revelations of Uno's sexual dalliances intensely embarrassed the prime minister. On June 28, Japanese newspapers reported that Uno told the LDP’s leadership he wanted to resign but was persuaded to stay in office—at least long enough to represent Japan at the G7 economic summit in Paris in mid-July. Throughout the 18-day political campaign, Uno kept a low profile, leaving it up to his wife,

Chiyo—a mother of two daughters—to appear before a group of women and apologize for her husband’s infidelities. Such behavior did not improve his standing among male voters.

In contrast, Doi proved to be an immensely popular campaigner who capitalized on the women’s vote by portraying the election as a battle between wholesome housewives and corrupt “old boy” politicians. “Japanese women have persevered on behalf of their fathers and their husbands, always walking several steps behind men,” she told cheering supporters in Fukushima. “But the time for an end of perseverance has arrived. It is time for women to stand up and tell men to follow us.” A record 146 women candidates sought office—compared with 82 in the last upper house election—and 22 of them won. Half of those were members of Doi’s Japan Socialist Party (JSP), and only two ran on the LDP ticket. “I really believe that this was a people’s revolution coming from the kitchen,” said Kazuo Shinsaka, a successful Rengo candidate in Nara.

Doi herself has had very little to do with kitchens. The former law professor—unflatteringly portrayed by the LDP as a left-wing version of Margaret Thatcher—is 60, unmarried and childless. Even progressive Japanese express the belief that a woman without a family has missed out on life. Some of her other traits, which would be admired in a male politician, have been criticized as insufficiently feminine: she has a deep voice, excels in the crucially important Japanese art of drinking with the boys—and has a passion for pinball. First elected to the lower house in 1969, Doi served as head of the JSP’s foreign affairs committee and as party vice-chairman before winning the party leadership in 1986.

Doi’s rise to national prominence still baffles many Japanese, and her ability to hold together an opposition coalition remains questionable. Although all the other opposition parties have agreed to submit a bill abolishing the three-per-cent sales tax, they oppose Socialist calls for dismantling the Japanese military establishment and abandoning a 29-year-old security treaty with the United States. The Democratic Socialist Party and the Komeito (Clean Government) Party have about as much in common with the JSP as they do with the LDP—which also is courting them as coalition partners. Doi can only hope that LDP infighting over whom to select as the next prime minister will create greater disarray in government ranks than that of the opposition. As for Uno—an accomplished poet—he can, perhaps, compose a haiku on the indignity of losing to an unmarried woman.

HOLGER JENSEN with KEVIN SULLIVAN in Tokyo

KEVIN SULLIVAN