Front-runner to lead Japanese opposition says PM's 'Abenomics' has stalled

August 17, 2016 3:31 AM EDT

Japan's main opposition Democratic Party's lawmaker Renho poses in front of her poster during an interview with Reuters in Tokyo, Japan, August 16, 2016. Picture taken August 16, 2016.REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

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By Linda Sieg and Sumio Ito

TOKYO (Reuters) - The clear favorite to become the first female leader of Japan's biggest opposition party believes Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's signature "Abenomics" policy has stalled and a change of gear is needed to favor people over corporations.

Renho, a former TV announcer born to a Taiwanese father and a Japanese mother, also criticized Abe for failing to express remorse over Japan's wartime aggression on the anniversary of Tokyo's defeat in World War Two, a stance that also rankles with Asian neighbors China and South Korea.

Renho, 48, who goes by her given name only, hopes to repair the Democratic Party's image, battered by three years in power that were plagued by infighting, policy flip flops and unkept promises that handed Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) a landslide election win in December 2012.

"It has become clear during the past three years that trickle-down policies aiming to enrich exporting firms by engineering a weak yen and fiscal spending focused on public works have reached their limits," Renho told Reuters in an interview.

"One economic policy solution is to spend money on individuals," she said. Renho, the mother of 19-year-old twins, is an advocate of policies that support working women and cited easing the financial burden of childrearing as an example.

She is the only lawmaker to announce candidacy so far for the Sept. 15 leadership race of the Democratic Party, formed when the former Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) merged with a smaller group.

An upper house lawmaker, she grabbed attention in a DPJ-led cabinet in 2010 by leading an attack on wasteful public spending.

Renho urged the Bank of Japan to end its controversial negative interest rate policy and expressed concern that it was becoming increasingly hard for the BOJ to exit its massive asset-buying program.

She said a Democratic government would not sharply shift Japanese foreign policies centered on Tokyo's alliance with Washington.

However, she expressed dismay at Abe's remarks at a war memorial ceremony on Monday when he did not mention remorse for Japan's wartime military aggression, contrasting them with Emperor Akihito's comments the same day.

"In the context of the emperor's expression of 'deep remorse' two years in a row, (for Abe) to excise the expression of 'deep remorse' used by past premiers made me feel strongly that something was wrong," Renho said.

The Democrats, who cooperated with other opposition groups including the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) in a July upper house election, improved their showing but couldn't prevent a ruling bloc landslide.

Renho said the Democrats would not join the JCP in the next lower house election, which must be held by late 2018, because policy differences made a coalition government impossible.

The fast-talking Renho, known for her trademark white outfits, is one of a handful of women to grab the spotlight recently in Japan's male-dominated corridors of power.

Abe has chosen hawkish former lawyer Tomomi Inada as defense minister, and former defense minister Yuriko Koike is now Tokyo's first female governor.

"It has become common place to hear news about women leaders in all countries, Renho said. "I would like to make this trend even stronger in Japan as well."

(Reporting by Linda Sieg; Editing by Paul Tait)

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