Two women are in contention to become prime minister of Japan for the first time in its history — a potential turning point for a country that ranks below Saudi Arabia in terms of female political representation.

Victory for either Seiko Noda and Sanae Takaichi, both former internal affairs ministers in their 60s, in a Sept. 29 vote for leader of the ruling party would mean Japan sees its first female prime minister. Even having women make up half the ballot of four candidates is a step forward for diversity in the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party, whose president is virtually assured of becoming prime minister due to its dominance in parliament.

"It probably won’t work out this time,” said Lully Miura, a political scientist at the Yamaneko Research Institute, of the chances of either female candidate making it to the top job. "But this makes it seem absolutely a matter of course that women should run, and people will get used to that.”