Women begin to make their mark

TOKYO - Female candidates had a record showing in Japan's election on Sunday: a total of 14 women were elected to the 511-member Lower House of the Diet, a record number, writes Terry McCarthy.

The women's share of parliamentary seats, reflecting the general progress of women's rights in Japan, increased from the last elections in 1990 when 12 were elected. The Liberal Democratic Party, which won 223 seats, had one female representative: Seiko Noda, 32, the first woman to enter the Lower House for the LDP.

Politics has long been dominated by men in Japan: when women became involved, invariably it used to be to carry on the work of their husbands or fathers who had died or become incapacitated. But in the last four or five years women have become more assertive in local politics, and are also making slow progress nationally.

There were 70 female candidates in the election, up from 66 in 1990. Most attention was focused on a constituency in Hyogo prefecture, where three women were running against each other, in the so-called 'Battle of the Madonnas'. Takako Doi, 64, the former leader of the Socialists, was pitted against Yuriko Koike, a 41- year-old newscaster running for the Japan New Party, and Yoko Fujiki, 60, from the Japan Communist Party. Both Ms Doi and Ms Koike were elected. During her campaign Ms Koike said she welcomed the competition from the other women: 'Because if I am elected it is because of my policies, not just because I am a woman.'

Another noted female candidate who won a seat was Makiko Tanaka, daughter of former prime minister Kakuei Tanaka, in Niigata prefecture. But she is widely seen as preparing the way for her son to take over the legacy of his grandfather.