A 60-year-old socialist woman could become Japan's prime minister, an event that would turn this conservative, male-dominated country on its ear.

Takako Doi, a doctor's daughter from Kobe and a veteran of 20 years in parliament, is chairwoman of the Japan Socialist Party, the largest opposition party. She is pressing opposition's case strongly now that the governing Liberal Democratic Party is mired in scandal.Doi has never directly expressed an ambition to be prime minister but she would probably have the first shot if the Liberal Democrats fail badly in a general election and the Socialists win more seats than the other smaller parties.

Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita said April 25 that he will step down soon to take responsibility for a loss of public trust because of an influence-peddling scandal. His conservative party, in power since it was formed in 1955, has yet to decide on a successor, and many party leaders are ruled out because of their links to the scandal.

The Liberal Democrats are expected to put forward a second-ranking figure as a sort of interim prime minister and try to regain the public's trust before a general election that would give the Socialists a chance to oust the long-governing party.

"This is a golden opportunity for opposition parties to take over the governing power from the hands of the Liberal Democratic Party," Doi told reporters this week.

"If we fail to take advantage of this situation, we may as well remain minority oppositionists eternally."

The Liberal Democrats have ignored her calls to let the opposition form a minority government in the Diet, or parliament. So the only alternative for the Socialists is to prevent the ruling party from winning the next election for the lower house, where the Liberal Democrats hold 297 of the 512 seats.

A lower house election must be held by next summer, but before then the electorate will vote this summer for half the seats in the upper house, where the Liberal Democrats hold 143 of the 252 seats.