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Socialist chief shakes up politics in Japan

In her three years as chairwoman of the Japan Socialist Party, Takako Doi has shaken up the staid world of Japanese politics and along the way become a widely admired figure. Doi, a 61-year-old former law professor, brought her party into serious contention for power last summer when she led an election campaign that stripped the long-ruling Liberal Democrats of their majority in the upper house of Parliament and boosted the Socialists' standing.

Her exhortative stumping style, so out of keeping with the meek image commonly projected by most Japanese women, galvanized female voters.

Along with other disgruntled members of the electorate, it was female voters who ushered a record 17 women _ 10 of them Socialists _ into the 252-seat upper house. Japanese media dubbed the move "Madonna power."

Again in Sunday's lower house election, the Socialists gained strength at the expense of other parties, chipping away at the Liberal Democrats' single-party domination of Japanese politics.

"This election shows that Japan's political party system has matured some," said Takehiko Kamo, professor of political science at Tokyo University. "Under Ms. Doi's leadership, the Socialists are becoming more mature."

A specialist in Japan's constitution, Doi became involved in politics in the 1960s, and in 1969 was elected to the House of Representatives from the 2nd District of Hyogo prefecture, near Kobe.

She became party vice chair in 1983 and its leader in 1986, the first woman to head a major political party in modern Japan.

An entry in Who's Who in Japan lists piano and music appreciation as her hobbies, but the press says pachinko, a Japanese pinball game, rates higher with her.