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33% of candidates in Japan's upper house election are women, highest ever

A female candidate, left, appeals for support to voters in this partially modified image taken in Inuyama, Aichi Prefecture, on June 22, 2022. (Mainichi/Koji Hyodo)

TOKYO -- A record 181 of the 545 people standing in Japan's July 10 House of Councillors election are women, comprising 33.2% of all candidates, also a high.

    The total of 181 female candidates announced on June 22 was up 77 from the previous upper house contest in 2019. It was the first time for the figure to top the 146 female candidates in the chamber's 1989 election, when the so-called "Madonna boom" led by Takako Doi, then head of the now-defunct Japan Socialist Party, occurred.

    The percentage of women was up 5.1 percentage points from the previous election, but there are three parties, including the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), in which the ratio stands at the 20% level, indicating that the road to "gender equality" is not easy.

    The overall number of candidates in this year's election marked a record increase of 47.3% over the previous election, but the increase was even higher for female candidates, reaching 74.0%.

    The party with the highest proportion of female candidates was the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) at 55.2%, up 0.2 percentage points from the previous election. The percentage of women in the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) climbed by 5.7 points to 51.0%, exceeding half for the first time in the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors elections.

    The Social Democratic Party (SDP) saw its proportion of female candidates dip 29.8 points to 41.7%, while the corresponding figure for the Democratic Party for the People (DPFP) rose 5.2 points to 40.9%. Reiwa Shinsengumi's figure was up 15.7 points to 35.7%, while the proportion of female candidates representing Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) decreased by 1.4 points to 30.4%.

    The LDP marked an 8.5-point increase, but female candidates account for only 23.2% of the total. The NHK Party, meanwhile, recorded an 11.0-point increase to reach 23.2%. The LDP's junior coalition partner Komeito increased by 12.5 points, the next highest growth rate after Reiwa Shinsengumi, but since it originally had a large number of men, the percentage of women was only 20.8%, the lowest among the nine parties that fulfill party requirements.

    Overall, the ratio of female candidates tends to be high among the opposition parties and low among the ruling parties. Although the ruling parties find it difficult to field new candidates as they already have many incumbents, even under the proportional representation system, where it is easier for party leaders to field candidates, the percentages of women in the LDP and Komeito remained low, at 30.3% and 17.6%, respectively.

    The central government's Fifth Basic Plan for Gender Equality formulated in 2020 calls for increasing the percentage of female candidates in the upper house election to 35% by 2025, the next election term. In order to achieve this goal, there is a strong argument across ruling and opposition parties that a "quota system" should be introduced, which would require each party to have a certain percentage of women as candidates.

    The numbers of female candidates fielded by respective parties in descending order were: 32 from the JCP, 26 from the CDP, 19 each from the LDP and NHK Party, 14 from Nippon Ishin, nine from the DPFP, and five each from Komeito, Reiwa Shinsengumi, and the SDP.

    (Japanese original by Tsumuki Nakamura, Political News Department)

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