Abe mulls female minister candidates

Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

TOKYO - How many female Diet members will Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appoint to important posts-with a Cabinet reshuffle scheduled for September, as well as personnel transfers among executive members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, this is the question on many people's minds.

"I wonder if I can use her in my Cabinet," Abe recently said to his aides, referring to a female House of Representatives member serving her first term. Abe aims to draw on women to secure a stable workforce as part of his growth strategy, and the second Abe Cabinet has set a goal of raising the proportion of women in leading positions in companies and public offices to about 30 per cent by 2020.

There are only 40 women among the 410 LDP Diet members-including the speaker of the House of Representatives and the president of the House of Councillors-just 10 per cent of the total. There are also few women who have been elected multiple times, which is one of the reasons Abe has to consider a "freshman" for the Cabinet.

Abe appointed Sanae Takaichi as chair of the LDP's Policy Research Council and Seiko Noda as General Council chief. He also chose two other women when he formed his Cabinet in December 2012: Tomomi Inada, state minister in charge of administrative reform, and Masako Mori, state minister for consumer affairs.

Junko Mihara, the head of the LDP's Women's Affairs Division, is waiting hopefully for the next reshuffle, saying, "I want Prime Minister Abe to double the number of female Cabinet members to four."

The record for female cabinet members in the postwar period is held by Junichiro Koizumi's first Cabinet, launched in 2001, which had five women in it.

However, an aide to Abe said, "Ms. Noda worked against the prime minister's efforts." Noda expressed her concern regarding the change in the government's constitutional interpretation on the exercise of the right of collective self-defence in an interview with a monthly magazine in May.

Appointment of inexperienced Diet members could also make the Cabinet unstable. "Prime Minister Abe might get into trouble someday if he doesn't make appointments based on candidates' capabilities, irrespective of gender," said a male Cabinet member.

A male Diet member who expects to be included in the Cabinet added, "If female Diet members with short careers join the Cabinet only because they are women, then honestly speaking, we won't feel good."

There are 42 members of the lower house who have not joined a cabinet but have been elected at least five times, which is regarded the standard for gaining cabinet membership. Likewise, there are also 14 members of the upper house who have been elected at least three times without ever becoming a cabinet member.

If Diet members with long careers like Hiroshi Moriyama-elected to the lower house four times and to the upper house once-and Katsutoshi Kaneda-elected twice both to the lower and upper houses-are included, there are even more male Diet members who meet the criteria for joining a cabinet.