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Tadatomo Yoshida Elected Head of SDP

Tadatomo Yoshida

Tadatomo Yoshida elected head of the SDP (SNA)

SNA (Tokyo) — Whenever we go to cover a Japanese political party event, it is usually the case that we are the only non-Japanese in the room. You had to figure that the leadership race of the venerable but now largely insignificant Social Democratic Party (SDP) would be another one of those and, of course, it was. But, really, there were only a couple of dozen Japanese reporters there too.

With only five national lawmakers left, you have to wonder if this leadership election, which was the first competitive election within the party since it was shaped out of the wreckage of the Japan Socialist Party in 1996, will also be its last.

At the beginning of this year, the SDP finally moved out of the storied but decrepit Miyakezaka building, which had been Socialist headquarters for almost half a century, since the year of the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. Now they are ensconced in a smaller but smarter seventh floor office in a building directly below and behind the Kantei.

The best reminder of the old days is just outside the elevator of the new office; the massive bronze bust of Inejiro Asanuma, the Socialist leader martyred on a stage in Hibiya Park in 1960, cut down by the katana of a rightist. Due to its sheer weight, Asanuma’s bust was moved from Miyakezaka to the new offices only with great time and effort.

As for Miyakezaka itself, it has now already been pounded into rubble. Only a construction zone remains where that familiar building stood for decades. One wonders when the nine-story LDP headquarters, built only two years later in 1966, will have a similar date with an unmerciful wrecking ball.

At any rate, the end of the LDP is still nowhere in sight, while the end of the SDP should come before the next general election, if they are smart.

There was no sign of any former SDP or Socialist leader at the Monday elections. Mizuho Fukushima has been keeping a low profile since she stepped down and made no appearance at the event. Former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, now 89, just cancelled a planned trip to China, creating the suspicion that he may not be around much longer in any case. Takako Doi, the other major leader of the party in recent decades, was also not to be seen.

Instead, it was very much a next-generation affair. Leadership candidate Tadatomo Yoshida, though 57, is only a first-term House of Councillors lawmaker, someone who wouldn’t be able to get anywhere near an executive position in a more substantial political party. His rival, the 39-year-old Taiga Ishikawa, would probably be disqualified from running in the largest parties as he is still a local politician, an assemblyman of Tokyo’s Toshima Ward.

Neither man has any national profile or particular claim to fame.

Tadatomo Yoshida won the race handily over his young rival. He gathered 9,986 party votes to Ishikawa’s 2,239 votes. Yoshida’s victory was confirmed in 45 of Japan’s 47 prefectures, and he was supported by all four of the other SDP national lawmakers as well as the party’s labor union allies.

In the press conference after his victory, Yoshida looked distinguished, but also rather stiff and dull. Ishikawa was the one who seemed to have more of the spark of charisma.

Still, when we later happened to run into the new SDP leader in the hallway as we were admiring the massive bust of Inejiro Asanuma, he stopped and shook our foreign hands and thanked us for coming. Yoshida seems like he would be more engaging one-on-one than he is in a room full of reporters.

Yoshida isn’t tipping his hand about what his future strategy will be. He referred to Taro Yamamoto and Keiko Itokazu as lawmakers whose beliefs are almost the same as his party’s ideals, but didn’t say anything clear about consolidating with other liberal forces or rebranding the party as a step toward modernizing it.

Perhaps that’s all premature at any rate. He will be formally installed as SDP leader at a general convention on the 26th and only after that should we expect to see what this man has in mind to revitalize the party.

Interestingly, he will be the very first male to lead the party since it became the Social Democratic Party in 1996. His two predecessors, Doi and Fukushima, were among Japan’s most prominent female lawmakers.

A most unfortunate by-product, however, is that Japanese politics have now become even more dreadfully male dominated. For the first time in a couple of decades all party leaders, as well as all of the party secretary-generals, are men. Powerful Japanese female politicians have all but disappeared in late 2013.

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