Japan: Democratic Party elects half-Taiwanese female leader

Renho Murata says she wants to increase the number of female lawmakers in the country.

Renho Murata, a half-Taiwanese former newscaster, became the first woman to lead Japan's main opposition, Democratic Party, after winning a landslide victory in a leadership contest on Thursday.

Renho, who goes by only one name, won against two male competitors despite controversy over her part-Taiwanese heritage, as dual nationality is not allowed in Japan. Anyone, who is born to parents of different nationalities, must choose one by the age of 22.

The 48-year-old mother of twins received 503 points of a total of 849 points in the election. The points were calculated from the weighted votes of lawmakers and other party members, compared with 230 for former foreign minister Seiji Maehara and 116 for former finance ministry bureaucrat, Mr Yuichiro Tamaki.

In her final speech before the vote, Renho, a former model and television news anchor, spoke emotionally about her children and how she was sometimes frustrated trying to balance work and motherhood.

However, after the results were declared she did not refer to her gender in her acceptance speech. She only spoke about the challenges ahead.

"I want to stand at the front of the party and rebuild it without fail into one that voters will choose," she told Reuters.

"What we must do now is face up to the massive ruling party," she added.

Renho said: "I ask you all to work together so that our party will be chosen by people for our competence in making proposals, our creativity and our vision for the country."

Earlier this week, Renho, who has served in the country's upper house of Parliament for more than a decade, said she ran to become the first woman leader of the party.

"Even that in itself opens up new possibilities for women," she said. She wants to increase the number of female lawmakers in the country.

"Of the three candidates, she was the only one who has any chance of turning around the party's fortunes," Gill Steel, an associate professor of politics at Doshisha University in Kyoto told The New York Times.

Renho is the third woman to take up a prominent political job in Japan after Yuriko Koike, the first female governor of Tokyo and Tomomi Inada, who was appointed as Japan's second woman defence minister.

Born in Tokyo to a Taiwanese father and a Japanese mother, Renho said that she had renounced her Taiwanese nationality when she obtained Japanese citizenship as 17. But, the official record in Taiwan has confirmed that she still has a citizenship.

Renho has since apologised for this and asked for her Taiwanese citizenship to be revoked. But it seems that the controversy is likely to follow her throughout her political career.

"I would like to apologise for the recent trouble I have caused by my unclear memory and statements," she said ahead of the votes.

Recently, Japan has been seen changing its attitudes toward mixed-race citizens. The country has crowned a mixed-race beauty queen for two consecutive years now.