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Takako Doi : Building an Opposition in Japan's One-Party State

December 09, 1990|Sam Jameson and Shelby Coffey III | Sam Jameson is The Times' Tokyo bureau chief. Shelby Coffey III is the editor of The Times. They interviewed Takako Doi in a conference reception room

OISO, JAPAN — "The reason I became a politician lies in Hollywood," Takako Doi, the charismatic chairwoman of the Japan Socialist Party, said during a break in a two-day meeting of U.S. and Japanese opinion-makers.

"I saw a movie. Its title was 'Young Mr. Lincoln.' I didn't go because of the title but rather because I am a great fan of Henry Fonda," she said. "I was deeply moved. So I wanted to become a lawyer. I entered the law school at university and ultimately became a politician."

Her inspiration, she explained, was Lincoln's "defense of a black person. Despite the fact that (Lincoln) was subjected to all kinds of accusations, he still continued. I was very moved."

Today, Doi, 62, has herself become an inspiration, both to women in Japan and to any voter who wants Japan, which has been governed continuously by the Liberal Democratic Party and its conservative predecessors since 1948, to develop a two-party system.

The first woman to lead a major party in Japan, Doi has resuscitated her fading one-time Marxist ideologues into a party that scored major gains in the last two national elections after two decades of decline.

But critics say her charisma alone won't be enough to carry the Socialists to power. Doi herself remains reserved in predictions of the future. The Socialists' first chance to come close to winning an election in the House of Representatives, which elects the prime minister, won't come until the second election from now, or another six years or so, she said.

Meanwhile, Doi has been trying to pull the Socialists into the mainstream of Japanese politics by uprooting the last vestiges of the party's old Marxist policies. She plays down the party's advocacy of abolishing the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty--indeed, she tries to avoid answering questions about it. She also has moved to improve her party's contacts with the United States, which once were all but nonexistent.

Doi, a constitutional lawyer, is dedicated to upholding Japan's postwar constitution that bans the use of force in settling international disputes. But she has supported overseas dispatch of non-military personnel to assist U.N. peacekeeping activities.

Relaxed and gracious in person, Doi exudes an aura of self-confidence and conviction--even when she is forced by divisions in her party's political philosophy to speak with less than full candor. She displays a playful sense of humor, occasionally breaking into infectious laughter. Unlike many Japanese politicians, the self-proclaimed devotee of pachinko (upright slot machines) playing and karaoke (singing to music recorded without words), affects no airs of self-importance.

Question: Concerning a possible dispatch of Japanese people for the gulf effort, what personnel might help?

Answer: . . . Non-military personnel . . . who would be helpful to civilians . . . . The important condition is that (the dispatch) be based on a United Nations decision and be carried out at the request of the United Nations. Unless this requirement is met, it would be difficult to obtain the consensus of our people.

Q: What if the U.S. effort is a failure--and Saddam Hussein stays in Kuwait? Is Japan content to make its own arrangements and live with Hussein in Kuwait?

A: Didn't the first U.N. resolution that was passed after the Aug. 2 invasion call for the withdrawal of Iraq from Kuwait? Saddam Hussein used his military forces and invaded another country and occupied it, claiming that that country was his own territory . . . a violation of international law (that) flouts international opinion . . . . The U.N. resolution makes clear what should be done. We (Socialists) support that.

Q: Do you support a continuation of the economic sanctions against Iraq indefinitely if Hussein does not leave Kuwait?

A: Yes. The fact that economic sanctions do not quickly produce results raises difficulties. One must brace oneself for a passage of time before the effects emerge.

Q: So, you see the Americans as too impatient?

A: I'm quite short-tempered myself. But even for as short-tempered a person as I, . . . once you start firing . . . and get entwined in warfare, the situation will become irretrievable . . . . Whatever happens, that absolutely must be avoided.

Q: You said the United States should be patient. In exchange for American patience, is Japan willing to contribute more money for the maintenance of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia?

A: That would pose many problems . . . . The Japanese people strongly feel that if war occurs in the gulf, we will cross a bridge of no return . . . .

The United States has decided to add still more troops (but) the more troops and the stronger the weapons deployed, the greater the danger grows.

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