A SURGE of female voters helped to defeat the ruling party in elections last year for the upper house in Japan. But will the so-called ``Madonna wave'' strike again in the more crucial vote for the lower house? The ruling Liberal Democratic Party certainly doesn't think so. The LDP decided that all of its candidates in the Feb. 18 poll would be men. Even the Japan Socialist Party, the largest opposition party which also has a woman as leader, put up fewer female candidates than in last July's election.
``The wind has gone out of women's power in politics,'' says Kuniko Inoguchi, political scientist at Sophia University. Still, 7 percent of candidates are women, and polls show females are more upset than males over the main issue in the campaign - a 3 percent consumption tax.
``Women's anger at the sales tax has not died down,'' says Sakae Yamaguchi, wife of the Socialist Party's secretary-general, Tsuruo Yamaguchi.
Socialist Party leader Takaka Doi says female voters will have a larger impact this time. But Ms. Doi herself is widely criticized for failing to take advantage of last year's victory. And the LDP stole some of her gender thunder when it appointed two women to high government positions last August. The LDP has a strong network of local women's associations that have been mobilized to counter the Madonna wave.
One issue that aroused women's ire last year was the sex scandal of then-Prime Minister Sosuke Uno. But his main opponent in Shiga prefecture, Socialist candidate Tsutomu Yamamoto, has decided the scandal is not worth a public mention.
Rather, the Japanese media have had only one women's story in this race: the tale of the wife of an LDP politician who defied her husband to run as a conservative independent. Makiko Hamada announced her candidacy without telling her husband first and did so against his initial displeasure. She has had to spend a lot of her campaign explaining her decision.
``I have told my husband that he should form a new conservative party,'' she says. But he refused. ``Suddenly, I realized that my past 25 years were the preparation period for me to do something.''