Who is Sanae Takaichi? Inside her extraordinary bid to become Japan’s first female PM

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Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party is nearing a leadership election that will decide the country’s next Prime Minister. Current PM Yoshihide Suga announced last week he would not stand for re-election as president, a decision that has since stirred up several candidates looking to replace him. Sanae Takaichi is among them and the only woman, putting her on the cusp of making Japanese history as the first female Prime Minister.

Who is Sanae Takaichi?

The looming LDP election has attracted candidates with diverse political stances, given its status as a “catch-all” party.

Ms Takaichi is a seasoned politician who resides to the right of the party’s politics, and she can be described as a “staunch conservative”.

She started as a Congressional Fellow for US Democrat Patricia Schroeder, whom she worked for between 1987 to 1989.

On returning to Japan, Ms Takaichi leveraged this experience to gain media attention before joining the House of Representatives in the 1993 election.

Since then, she has held several governmental positions, most recently Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications.

Her political history has made her one of Japan’s most influential female politicians, and she plans to bring this popularity to the leadership race.

So far, she has centred her blossoming campaign on the country’s economy, with a plan dubbed “Sanaenomics”.

Sanaenomics would build on the LDP’s investment plan that champions monetary and fiscal stimulus.

Ms Takaichi has proposed directing new investment towards crisis management.

The pandemic has eaten away at Japan’s infrastructure, and the former communications secretary would like to direct funding towards Covid and cyber-attack defences and food security.

Her plans have already proven popular, earning her an endorsement from former LDP Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

But her candidacy doesn’t come without controversy.

Ms Takaichi has made several visits to the controversial Yasukuni war shrine.

The shrine, according to Shinto beliefs, provides a permanent residence for spirits of those who fought on behalf of the Japanese emperor.

Approximately 1,068 of its present inhabitants died with convictions of some kind of war crime by a post-World War 2 court.

Ms Takaichi visited the war shrine on the anniversary of Japan’s military surrender in 2007, the only one of Shinzo Abe’s cabinet to do so.

Her visits and commitment to constitutional military reform have often seen critics refer to her as a hard-line nationalist.

But at present, it appears she is not likely to win the race to become LDP leader.

That honour will likely go to Taro Kono, Japan’s vaccine minister, who has the most support amongst LDP members, while little exists for Ms Takaichi.

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