Sanae Takaichi asserts her independence with the media

During Sanae Takaichi’s news conference announcing her run for Liberal Democratic Party president on Sept. 8, Takako Zenba of TBS asked her about remarks she made in the past characterizing some poor people as putting on an act to get money from the state. Takaichi explained her thoughts about helping the poor and wondered if Zenba was somehow prejudiced against her. “This is me,” she said, and that included everything she stood for, policy-wise.

Four days later, during a discussion on Fuji TV’s “The Prime,” Takaichi again took aim at the media’s portrayal of her. She got the feeling she was being pigeonholed as a right-wing figure, and implied she resented it, but in any case she couldn’t give up “what I can’t give up.”

According to an article in President Online by Hiroshi Samejima, Takaichi’s confrontation with Zenba, who is often described as a “popular announcer,” received positive feedback on the internet. In the calculus of social media, that means there was a corresponding measure of resentment aimed at Zenba. By asserting her individuality, Takaichi distinguished herself from one of her rivals for the presidency, Taro Kono, who has had to modulate his stance on certain policies in order to win the favor of more conservative members of the LDP.

As Samejima’s article points out, Takaichi, regardless of whether she’s approached as a force for the Japanese right, has always been unwavering in her views and ambitions. Because she is endorsed by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who also heads the LDP’s biggest faction, she is considered closer to Abe in terms of political ideology than either Kono or the other main contender for LDP president, Fumio Kishida, thus making her Abe’s political heir. And while pundits and polls have given her little chance of winning, Samejima believes Abe’s backing will guarantee her at least a prominent Cabinet position in the next administration.

According to Samejima, Takaichi shares Abe’s “reactionary ideology” with regard to matters that seem to be of little concern to the public, such as opposing the female imperial line and elective surnames for married couples, and revising the Constitution. Even “Sanaenomics,” her continuation of Abe’s neoliberal “Abenomics” fiscal policy by another name, is characterized by a sharper turn toward investment as a means of reviving the economy. She has no specific prescriptions for narrowing the wealth gap.

But while Abe’s endorsement would seem to indicate she’s an acolyte, her career reveals a more independent streak. She first ran successfully for the Diet in 1993 — the year Abe was also elected for the first time — as an unaffiliated candidate, and later joined the non-LDP coalition that briefly led the government. When the coalition dissolved, she joined former LDP kingpin Ichiro Ozawa’s New Frontier Party and, when that collapsed, the LDP. But unlike some other New Frontier members, she was not a prodigal child, meaning someone who had bolted from the LDP and then came crawling back when Ozawa failed. Takaichi didn’t have to suffer the resentment of veteran LDP members the way other New Frontier leavers did.

Takaichi aligned herself with the LDP’s “hawks,” who believed that Japan was once a much better place. Though she lost re-election in 2003, she came back in 2005 as one of then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s “assassins” to beat back LDP members who opposed his post office reforms. Since then she has risen gradually but steadily in the LDP without abandoning her principles.

This integrity, according to Samejima, distinguished her from other ranking female LDP members. The two most prominent, Seiko Noda, who is also in the leadership race, and Yuriko Koike, saw their stars rise through the patronage of powerful men. Abe was not always keen on Takaichi. At one time he was grooming former Defense Minister Tomomi Inada as his successor, but once Inada started showing “liberal tendencies,” he abandoned her. Though Takaichi may be a long shot, she is closer to achieving the post of prime minister than Koike, Noda or Inada ever were.

Consequently, the media has shown more interest in the possibility of a female prime minister. A Sept. 12 article on Aera Dot featured two prominent writers, both women, discussing the prospect. Tokyo Shimbun reporter Isoko Mochizuki said that some within the LDP think the time is ripe for a female prime minister but, as a woman, Mochizuki is not thrilled at the prospect of Takaichi being that person.

“She’s more like a middle-aged man wearing a woman’s mask,” she said with regard to Takaichi’s remarks about matters that concern women.

Award-winning novelist Kyoko Nakajima says Takaichi has unabashedly maintained the attitudes and policies of Japan’s current “paternalistic society,” thus making her “an honorary man.” Since Sanaenomics is simply a retread of Abenomics, the whole idea feels like an insult.

In an interview in Keizai Premier, U.K.-based writer Mikako Brady elaborated on the difference between right-wing female politicians in Europe and those in Japan. In Europe, these women practice what’s called “femonationalism,” which sees Muslim men as a common enemy of both Europeans in general and Muslim women in particular. In Japan, the common enemy of femonationalists is the kind of men represented by the LDP old guard. Koike attained the Tokyo governorship by leaving the LDP and antagonizing these men, though she herself is not far from them ideologically.

As far as first female prime ministers go, Nakajima says she would prefer former Social Democratic Party head Mizuho Fukushima, because she’s a seasoned administrator. Mochizuki thinks Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games Minister Seiko Hashimoto, an LDP stalwart, would be a good choice since she is respected by female entrepreneurs and students, though she admits Hashimoto is limited when it comes to issues that women care about.

The problem, says Mochizuki, is that the only viable candidates for prime minister are the calculating kind, meaning they’re likely to do anything in order to achieve victory, and that goes for female candidates, too.

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Author: Shirley