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Renho's nationality disclosure raises discrimination concerns, fails to unite DP

Democratic Party leader Renho speaks at a news conference clarifying questions regarding her nationality at the party's headquarters in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, on July 18, 2017. (Mainichi)

Democratic Party (DP) leader Renho disclosed a portion of her family register in hopes of clarifying questions over her nationality at a July 18 press conference. However, while repeatedly saying her case was an exception, voices in the largest opposition party are raising concerns that her actions could lead to discrimination, signaling party unity is still far away.

The fact that Renho at one time possessed both Japanese and Taiwanese nationality has been singled out by her fellow DP lawmakers as one of the reasons for the poor performance of DP candidates in the recent Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election. However, while the move to disclose her family register aimed to dispel doubts and restore faith in the DP's leadership, the reality of restoring party unity is still as distant as ever.

Making a portion of Renho's family register public was heavily debated in a total of six party meetings from July 11 to 18 following the DP's Tokyo election defeat. Some lawmakers claimed that the issue did not warrant further discussion, such as one junior legislator arguing that there was little to be gained from releasing the document now, and one veteran lawmaker also saying that even though Renho's explanation of her nationality had been contradictory at times, there are many people holding dual citizenship in the country.

Strong criticism that Renho's action could encourage discrimination such as forcing foreign nationals or naturalized Japanese citizens to prove their nationality by releasing personal information also came to the fore in the discussions. "Personal information is something that the government should naturally guard," said House of Representatives lawmaker Tomoko Abe. "(Renho's) publicizing of her personal information will bring more harm than good."

The heavy debate over the disclosure reflects the reality of a party support base at odds: conservative members pushed for the release of the information, while the liberal base called for discretion. Even within the top echelon of the DP, there were concerns the move could promote discrimination and exclusionism.

Yet the party's record low of only five seats in the Tokyo assembly election swayed the party toward releasing the information. House of Representative lawmaker Masato Imai tweeted on July 9, a week after the election, "First we need to solve the dual nationality problem." Renho then announced on July 11 that she would release her family registry. On the evening of July 18 after Renho's press conference in question, Imai told the media, "President Renho has given a proper explanation. I would like to truly commend her."

On the other hand, there have also been DP lawmakers who have been just as vocal in criticizing the very idea that Renho's nationality had anything to do with their loss. Lower house member Manabu Terata tweeted on July 12, "It was this misconception that fundamentally led to the defeat."

While it is still unclear how party unity can be restored, Renho, along with Secretary-General Yoshihiko Noda and other executive members of the party, continue to hang on after defeat. Still, dissatisfaction among party members over the leadership's handling of the dual nationality issue continues to smolder.

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