The three men running for president of the Democratic Party of Japan vowed Thursday in Tokyo to boost the number of female lawmakers as a way to make the largest opposition force strong enough to challenge the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

Speaking at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, DPJ Deputy President Katsuya Okada, 61, pledged to publicly seek female candidates for the next Upper and Lower house elections soon after the party holds its leadership race this Sunday.

“I believe the trigger to change Japanese society and the DPJ itself is women,” Okada said. “We must increase the number of women in the party’s executive positions, not nominal positions but real roles where they can really do practical jobs.”

He went on to say that “the DPJ must become the party that clearly puts the utmost importance on female power.”

Goshi Hosono, 43, and Akira Nagatsuma, 54, meanwhile stressed the importance of introducing a quota system to raise the number of female lawmakers.

Among the DPJ’s 132 Diet members, 18 are women. This rate of 14 percent compares favorably with the total of about 11 percent.

The female representation among Japanese lawmakers remains one of the worst of any nation, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2014 report on the gender gap.

“It’s important to create an environment where more women can become Diet members by introducing a quota system. I also want to expand systems to financially support” more women to run for national office, Hosono said.

He also pledged to beef up child support to help mothers who want to work.

As is usually the case in Japan, all of the DPJ presidential candidates are male. Diet member Renho, 47, tried in December to enter the race, but she couldn’t get the required 20 recommendations from party members. She has thrown her support behind Okada.

According to media reports, the party’s Diet members favor Hosono and Okada in the leadership election. A survey Saturday by Jiji Press showed that among the 132 lawmakers, 44 support Hosono and 43 will vote for Okada. Nagatsuma had the support of 31, while rest were undecided.

Okada is backed by veterans such as former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and current Secretary-General Yukio Edano, while Hosono is supported mainly by conservative and relatively younger members. Nagatsuma is strong among liberal members.

This will be the first DPJ presidential election where votes by its local assembly members, rank-and-file members and supporters will have more weight than those of its Diet members. The non-Diet members will have about two-thirds of the total.

If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the votes in the first round, a runoff will be held immediately between the two top candidates. Only Diet members vote in the runoff.

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