Japan opposition party picks first female leader after citizenship hiccup

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s main opposition Democratic Party on Thursday elected a former cabinet minister as its first female leader on Thursday, following a last-minute hiccup when she was found to hold dual citizenship in violation of Japanese law.

Japan's main opposition Democratic Party's new leader Renho (C) raises her fists with her party lawmakers after she was elected party leader at the party plenary meeting in Tokyo, Japan September 15, 2016. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Renho, 48, who goes by her given name only, hopes to repair the party’s image, battered by three years in power that were plagued by infighting, policy flip flops and unkept promises that handed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) a landslide election win in 2012.

Born to a Japanese mother and Taiwanese father, the former TV announcer and mother of twins was embarrassed this week when she discovered she held Taiwanese as well as Japanese citizenship.

The law requires those with dual citizenship to choose one by age 22 and when opting for Japan, endeavor to renounce the other nationality. But there is no penalty for not doing so.

Renho had previously said she believed paperwork to renounce her Taiwanese citizenship had been completed when she was a teenager but was recently notified by the de facto Taiwanese embassy in Japan that her Taiwanese citizenship was still valid.

“I would like to apologize for the recent trouble I have caused by my unclear memory and statements,” she said in a speech ahead of the vote.

Renho is one of a handful of women to grab the spotlight lately in Japan’s male-dominated corridors of power, along with hawkish Defence Minister Tomomi Inada and Yuriko Koike, a former defense minister who is now Tokyo’s first female governor.

She admitted on Thursday her party faces an uphill battle against the LDP, which together with its junior partner dominates both houses of parliament.

“From here on, we will face a giant ruling party,” she said after the vote. “I’d like to call upon everyone to join me in becoming a party that does not criticize but makes proposals ... so one day we will become Japan’s choice.”

An Asahi newspaper poll this week showed 40 percent of those surveyed support the LDP against 7 percent for the Democrats.

In an interview with Reuters, Renho said the prime minister’s signature “Abenomics” growth policies had stalled, and a Democratic government would not sharply shift Japanese foreign policies centered on Tokyo’s alliance with Washington.

Renho beat former foreign minister Seiji Maehara and party lawmaker Yuichiro Tamaki in the leadership election.

Writing by Kiyoshi Takenaka and Linda Sieg; Reporting by Megumi Lim; Editing by Nick Macfie