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Single-seat districts exacerbate difficulty in increasing female candidates

  • October 18, 2021
  • , Asahi , p. 2
  • JMH Translation

By Yamashita Go and Ose Kotaro, graphics by Kato Keitaro


According to a tally by the Asahi Shimbun, some single-seat electoral districts have a relatively high percentage of female candidates, such as Gifu No. 1 district (59%). Niigata no. 4 district (50%), Saitama No. 13 district (44%), Hokkaido No. 11 district (43%), and Gunma No. 5 and Fukui No. 1 districts (42%). For the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the percentage of female candidates trends higher in single-seat constituencies where a strong female lawmaker is the incumbent, including Noda Seiko (Gifu No. 1), Obuchi Yuko (Gunma No. 5), and Inada Tomomi (Fukui No. 1). This is presumably because the opposition parties are more likely to field a female challenger in electoral districts where the incumbent is a female.


How are the parties answering to the Act on Promotion of Gender Equality in the Political Field in the upcoming Lower House election, which will be the first general election since the law’s enactment?


Only about 10% of the LDP candidates will be women in the upcoming election, including both single-seat and proportional representation constituencies. The LDP has fielded candidates in over 90% of single-seat constituencies in past elections. Until the 2003 Lower House election, females accounted for only 2 to 3% of the LDP candidate cohorts. In the 2005 election fought over postal privatization, however, then-Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro recruited many female hopefuls, who were nicknamed “assassins.” Although the female percentage reached 8% at the time, the number hasn’t increased much since then.


“There were always a large number of incumbents running in an election, making it less likely for the party to field new challengers, regardless of their gender,” remarked an LDP official at the LDP Election Strategy Headquarters. “Even when we advertised for new candidates, only a limited number of women showed interest. We need to start by creating an environment that’s more accommodating to females who want to be involved in politics.”


In 2005, 5% of former Democratic Party candidates were women, the same level as the LDP. The number has grown since the party took the reins of government in 2009, and it reached 16% in 2014. In the 2017 Lower House election, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ) , a successor to the party, increased the percentage of female candidates to 23%. The Now-defunct Kibo no To reached 19% as well.


But in the upcoming Lower House election, the percentage of female candidates from the CDPJ is expected to fall below 20%. “We have tried hard [to increase the number], but the effort was unsuccessful,” said CDPJ leader Edano Yukio at a press conference on Oct. 13, adding, “In the Upper House election next year, the CDPJ will strive to field equal numbers of male and female candidates.”


However, Miura Mari, a professor of political science at Sophia University, says in no uncertain terms: “The number of female politicians will not increase under the current system.” She points out that one of the factors that exacerbates the issue is the single-seat constituency system.


It is easier for female candidates to raise a hand in multi-seat electoral districts or proportional-representation districts in an Upper House election. But in the Lower House’s single-seat districts, most of the parties back incumbents, making it difficult for a newcomer to seek party support unless the district’s incumbent is retiring.


Miura says: “The current situation will persist unless the parties take drastic measures such as making 50% of new candidates women at single-seat constituencies and insisting on a 50-50 male-female ratio in the lists of candidates for proportional-representation districts.”


Many countries impose quotas to ensure that a certain number of women run in elections and occupy parliamentary seats. “There will be no progress if the goal is set at just increasing the number of female legislators,” says Miura. “We must share the understanding that it is a problem for our democracy that we have only small numbers of female, young, and handicapped politicians. We should consider the issue of female politicians in the context of creating a system that welcomes diversity.”

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