Japan's Obuchi: Political 'princess' could be first female PM

Japan's Obuchi: Political 'princess' could be first female PM

TOKYO - With a telegenic presence, powerful ruling party mentors and a talent for avoiding making political enemies, Japan's new trade and industry minister, Yuko Obuchi, may have what it takes to become the country's first female prime minister.

In Tokyo's male-dominated corridors of power, where seniority still matters, Obuchi's gender and youth would in the past have made her a long-shot - at best - to succeed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

But a shortage of popular male rivals and lingering doubts over the success of "Abenomics" mean the 40-year-old daughter of a prime minister is increasingly seen as a contender when her Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) goes shopping for a new leader.

For now, Abe's support rates are respectable at more than 50 per cent, but his popularity depends mostly on whether he can keep promises to fix Japan's long-stagnant economy.

Even if Abe's direct successor turns out to be a man, Obuchi - dubbed the "next premier but one" by some Japanese media - is clearly on a career path that could take her to the top job.

"Her faction wants to push her forward. They want to nurture her as a future leader," said Nihon University professor Tomoaki Iwai. "Trade and industry minister is an important post, so you could say she has climbed a step up the ladder toward premier."

One of the first tests of Obuchi's skills as minister is the tricky task of selling an unpopular policy of restarting nuclear reactors to a public wary about safety after the 2011 Fukushima crisis.

Abe appears to be hoping that the popular Obuchi's soft-spoken ways and status as the mother of two boys, aged seven and four, will soften the blow for the many Japanese voters, women especially, who oppose restarts.

"As soon as I get home, I become a housewife so things like shopping, childcare, going to the doctor - I realise there are many things needed for daily life," Obuchi, tall and slim in a black pants suit with her short hair swept to the side, told women last week in the village of Kawauchi, about 20 km (12 miles) from the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant.

Many villagers fled after Fukushima meltdowns sent radiation spewing, and still worry about going back to deserted neighborhoods despite the lifting of evacuation orders.

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