Seventeen years ago, Takako Doi entered the lower house of the Japanese Parliament as a member of the Japan Socialist Party, the country's second largest political organization. Today, the 57-year-old woman is the JSP's chairman and the first of her sex to lead a major political party in Japan.
The former law professor, now considered one of the nation's brightest political stars, has her work cut out for her: the rejuvenation of the country's perennially No. 2 party. Since she replaced Masashi Ishibashi, who resigned in September to accept responsibility for the party's dismal defeat in the summer parliamentary elections, she has promised a new beginning for the organization which lost a full fifth of its strength at the July polls.Whatever her political future holds, she quite clearly is going to find it a challenge to provide a new image for the JSP, which badly needs revitalizing. Miss Doi also no doubt faces considerable difficulties as a feminist who has pledged a frontal attack on traditional male domination in Japan.
To Miss Doi, it is unjust that the country's politics and business are almost completely con trolled by men. Her basic tenet is that such discrimination should be eliminated as soon as possible. But she realizes that this is going to be a long drawn-out battle.
More of a short-range effort, at least in her eyes, is the immediate need to make the Socialist Party's reformist policies clear to the Japanese public. This, she feels, must be the JSP's first priority. She insists that the party can offer policies that are closer to the voters' requirements than those of the ruling Liberal Democrats, who won a landslide victory in the July balloting.
For a long time now, the Liberal Democrats have ruled the Japanese Parliament - often with an absolute and unchallengeable majority - mostly
because the outdated JSP has lacked proper local organization, relying on labor union manpower and financing to fill the gap.
Miss Doi evidently hopes to change all that, replacing it with grass-root responsiveness. Her main task will be to convince the aging, fussbudgety JSP leaders that now is the time to abandon hopelessly abstruse issues of revolutionary socialist theory and the verbal niceties of inter-union debate.
Miss Doi holds that trade frictions with the United States and other major trading partners are the most crucial issue of the moment for Japan. She concedes that there exists no alternative right now but for Japan to expand domestic demand, to import more and export less.
Anyone can see we are in an economic crisis and need changes, says Miss Doi, but we disap prove of giving rise to unemployment and can't say yes to creating a gap in industry. This position is an obvious criticism of proposals by the Liberal Democratic Party leaders that the nation's industries be streamlined to revitalize the sluggish economy.
Miss Doi also agrees with the Nakasone administration that U.S.-Japan relations are important, yet she cautions that these ties are deviating from what they have been in the past. Relations with Washington should not not be based upon the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, she contends. They should be based on peace and friendship, she argues.
Nonetheless, it is apparent that Miss Doi is going to experience serious problems in putting the party's theories to work. Some of these remain highly unpopular with the mass of Japanese voters. A good example is the JSP's contention that Japan should be non-aligned and totally unarmed - and that the defense treaty with the United States should be abandoned. According to Miss Doi's position, for instance, the recent decision by the Nakasone administration to participate in research for the Strategic Defense Initiative - the U.S. space-based missile system - should be reversed.
It remains to be seen to what extent Miss Doi can succeed in stimulating her colleagues in the union-dominated JSP and attracting Japanese voters. However, her popularity right now is such that voters are taking renewed interest in the key opposition party. But Miss Doi, already dubbed the made- in-Japan Thatcher and the JSP's Aquino (references to female world leaders), may find herself overwhelmed by the task of rebuilding her struggling party.
Some political observers believe that if a general election was held in the next few months the JSP would score a major victory, winning 120 seats or more in the lower house. Presently, the party occupies only 86 seats in the House of Representatives, the lowest number in its history.
Such success, they claim, would be due almost entirely to the novelty of the attractive Miss Doi's leadership of the party and her cheerful, vivacious personality. This may be so, but obviously it is only a temporary situation, given the failure of the party to attract masses of supporters over the past decades.
Certainly the party membership figures are an embarrassment to the JSP. While the LDP can claim 3.5 million party members, the number for the JSP has leveled off at only about 85,000.
Since assuming the JSP chairmanship, Miss Doi has been appearing regularly on popular enter tainment programs on commercial television and has freely given interviews to the mass media. In addition, her party has launched a vigorous drive to recruit new members, particularly women.
Since it is unlikely that the next lower house elections will take place before 1990, it remains questionable whether the popularity of Miss Doi will hold up long enough to spark a revival of the party. Much may depend on whether or not the dedicated Miss Doi can use the intervening years to reform the party organization and stress realistic policies which will appeal to the public.
Her most effective enemies are more likely not to be found among the leaders of the ruling Liberal Democrats, but rather among the JSP's pragmatic old guard who hope to immobilize her strength and maintain policies that some political analysts criticize as being of the last century.
In order to counter such opposition within the rapidly disintegrating JSP, the former university lecturer has remained independent of the bitter feuding among intra-party factions. Such are her handicaps within the party's stagnant leadership that it is difficult to see how she can turn her popularity with the voters into solid JSP support.
Still, she appears to realize this necessity and is already off and running. She gets by with about three or four hours of sleep each night at best recently, says one of her close aides. She rushes from one meeting to another attempting to keep her face and name before the people.
As it turns out, her unpretentious, down-to-earth personality and feminine qualities (she favors brightly colored clothing), mixed with something of a mannish manner, enhance her public acceptance. In the longer term, however, although she surely deserves the rose-colored badge of courage, if nothing else, for agreeing to accept the party's leadership at this time, it is obvious that her future success or failure will depend on who in the JSP headquarters finally emerges as her close political advisers.
As one political science expert in Tokyo put it recently: One of two fates await Miss Doi. Either she will succeed in opening up her party to unprecendented influence from the hitherto excluded sources of public support for the JSP or she will end as a puppet of her own executive. The future of the Japan Socialist Party may rest on the outcome.