Japanese Communist Party Aims to Renew Party Image by Naming 1st Female Leader; Longtime JCP Head Shii Remains Powerful 

The Yomiuri Shimbun
New Japanese Communist Party Chairperson Tomoko Tamura speaks at a press conference following a party convention in Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture, on Thursday as her predecessor Kazuo Shii, who assumed the post of chair of the JCP Central Committee, looks on.

The Japanese Communist Party’s move to replace its chairperson for the first time in 23 years by picking its first female leader is aimed at renewing its image to overcome a long-term slump. However, her predecessor Kazuo Shii will stay in the party leadership as the chair of the JCP Central Committee, raising speculation that the party’s power structure will remain unchanged.

Tomoko Tamura, the new JCP chair, said at a press conference on Thursday, “I want to make every effort for the growth and development of the party while trying to improve by learning from others and taking on challenges.”

The number of JCP members declined from 360,000 in 1994 to 250,000 as of January this year due to such factors as the aging of the membership. In February last year, the party was criticized for being “closed” in its management after expelling party members who published a book calling for introducing a system to elect the party leader by vote.

Given the situation, the JCP appears to have tried to project its new image with a generational change at a party convention by choosing its first female leader, as well as appointing Taku Yamazoe, a 39-year-old House of Councillors member, to head the party’s Policy Commission.

“This will be a catalyst for attracting public interest in the party,” a senior JCP member said.

However, it remains unknown whether Tamura can demonstrate her own way to lead the party.

At the press conference on Thursday, Shii indicated his intention to remain involved in the party’s management. “I am in charge of the [top decision-making] Central Committee, while Tamura represents the party for national politics. This is a system under which we will work together and consult with each other,” he said.

As JCP chairperson, Shii adopted a soft policy line by revising the party’s platform, which outlines the party’s philosophy and goals, to accept the Self-Defense Forces and the Imperial system for the time being.

In 2015, the JCP led by Shii launched the vision of forming a “national coalition government” with the aim of abolishing security-related laws. Since the upper house election in 2016, he had taken the lead in building a united front of opposition parties. Regarding the united front, Shii stressed at the press conference, “I am confident that it was not a wrong move.”

“Tamura will serve as the ‘face’ of the party, while Shii will continue to be the mainstay of the party,” a party source said.