The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has dominated Japan’s politics for a very long time. The party was formed in November, 1955 when the Liberal party and Japan Democratic Party merged. LDP held power from 1955 up to 2009. In, 2009, LDP lost its majority in the House of Representatives to the opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan (Shugart and Wattenberg 89).
Consequently, Yukio Hatoyama, the opposition party leader, became Japan’s 92nd Prime Minister. This ended LDP’s dominance of Japanese politics. The following paper explores Japan’s political development after World War II. Emphasis will be on the formation and dominance of Japan’s politics by LDP. Finally, the paper looks into the possibility of two party democracy and possible benefits to the Japanese people.
Formation and Dominance of LDP in Japan’s politics
Japan suffered a lot of damage during World War II. According to Jaysheree (The Rise of Political Opposition in Japan), most of her infrastructure was destroyed including some major cities like Tokyo. The United States led Allied forces in an occupation where Japan lost some of her territory.
For example, The United States occupied Okinawa which was returned to Japan in 1972. The occupation by the Allied forces ended in 1952 and Japan embarked on rebuilding the nation. Therefore, Japan’s political agenda was dominated by the rebuilding of country’s infrastructure and restoring the economy (Shugart and Wattenberg 90). Political activities remained rife during the period of the occupation. There are several reasons that have been given as to why the LDP managed to dominate Japan’s politics for so long.
One aspect that enabled LDP to dominate Japanese politics is the reconstruction efforts geared towards rural economy. LDP’s reconstruction policies were aimed at helping farmers and small business owners. Therefore, LDP modelled itself into a traditional conservative party (Shugart and Wattenberg 90).
Through its policies, LDP gave farmers subsidies and as a result, they were able to increase their production. Tariffs were also introduced in order to protect the domestic market from increased imports. Therefore, LDP’s popularity and support among the rural population grew immensely.
The political system also aided LDP’s dominance. LDP‘s main support basis was in the rural areas. The electoral system divided Japan into multimember districts. Each district had an elected representative in the House of Representatives.
Urban district has higher number of voters than rural districts, however, this was not put into consideration and as such there were almost an equal number of urban and rural districts (Kikuchi 342). Based on its popularity, the LDP was able to capture most rural districts thus consolidating the party’s dominant position. To ensure that the party enjoyed continued support, most of its policies were more beneficial to the party’s supporters.
LDP also established strong foreign relations especially with the United States. The United States offered Japan financial aid which was redirected towards reconstruction efforts. This continued cooperation eventually resulted in the reinstitution of Okinawa to Japan. The United States had occupied Okinawa following Japan’s defeat in the World War II (Jaysheree para. 4). In addition, the United States was also Japan’s main trading partner where she also benefited from imported technology.
LDP launched the rapid industrialization initiative whose main goal was to convert Japan into an export based economy. The initiative was launched by the LDP and emphasis increased after the 1973 oil crisis. The oil crisis was instigated by oil producing countries that imposed an oil embargo, thereby resulting in an artificial shortage.
This had adverse effects on Japan’s economy which was heavily reliant on oil production (Shugart and Wattenberg 90). LDP moved to avert this risk by introducing technology- based innovations. LDP invested heavily in new technology aimed at discovering new and efficient methods of production. Increased exports led to an improved economy from which LDP was able to base its political agenda on the success of the economy.
Another issue that also contributed to the dominance of the LDP in Japan’s politics is political culture. Japanese have been socialized to submit to the authority. This is part of the country’s traditional values. Based on this LDP maintained its dominance since the electorate preferred to vote for the incumbent party (Shugart and Wattenberg 91).
This is because they were more familiar with the party’s leadership style. However, this mentality has been on the decrease in recent years and reached its low level in 2009, when an opposition party was able to assume power in Japan.
Multi-Party Politics in Japan
Opposition parties have always been at the periphery of Japanese politics. There are several factors that have contributed to growth of multiparty politics in Japan. The Electoral reforms in 1994 aimed at correcting some aspects which had made LDP dominant in the politics (Jaysheree para. 6).
LDP advocated for a simple plurality system that would enable the party to secure a simple majority in both houses. However, opposition parties were opposed to this and advocated for proportional representation. Faced with probable loss of seats in both houses under proportional representation, opposition parties settled a combination of the two forms of electoral practice.
Competitive multi party politics have several advantages. One advantage of multiparty politics is that the electorate has a bigger pool to choose from. Candidates present their agendas to the electorate. Therefore, the electorate elects a candidate based on the suitability of his or her agenda.
The decision is based on the electorate’s current and future needs. Shugart and Wattenberg indicate another advantage is that multiparty politics is that the opposition checks on the government’s performance (90). This ensures that the government is keen on implementing agenda as presented to the electorate. The opposition, also, checks on the government’s excesses thus it remains accountable in its utilization of resources.
In order to bring multi party competitive politics in Japan, several things need to be done. In order to introduce competitive multiparty politics in Japan, there is need to cut links between bureaucracy and policymaking. In Japan, there is a strong link between bureaucracy and political leader.
Relationships between the political leadership and bureaucrats impede development of liberal policies (Shugart and Wattenberg 91). Policies are geared towards protection of the bureaucrats’ interests at the expense of developing all inclusive agendas. Bureaucratic procedures established through legislation makes it quite difficult to for foreign investors who identify viable business opportunities in Japan.
Another factor that is a major impediment in the development of multi party politics in Japan is corruption. Election law in Japan, for example stipulate the amount of money a candidate is allowed to spend during campaigns. This law has been subject to increased abuse where candidates exceed the limits as prescribed for each seat under the law.
Kikuchi gives a good example of the Sagawa transport scandal where the company financed LDP candidates to a tune of $ 25 million (343). Development of multi party politics leads to increased competition thus candidate keep check of each other’s action.
Development of competitive politics can have an effect on Japan. Shift from conservative to liberal politics could have ensured increased transparency. Increased bureaucracy is a catalyst of increased corruption. Liberal politics result in more liberalised policies including reduced bureaucratic procedures for foreign investors.
Increased investment is essential in Japan’s economy still reeling from the effect of the global financial crisis. Competitive politics also leads to increased scrutiny of party policies. When Democratic Party of Japan assumed power, it promised reforms including introducing more liberalised policies in such facets as business licensing. However, the party did not take into account the bureaucratic structure instituted by the previous regime. Breaking down the bureaucratic structure takes time.
Japan was highly affected by the global financial crisis in 2008. Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) therefore based its agenda on reforms and thus was able to defeat the LDP. DPJ run into a myriad of problems including changing the bureaucratic structure established under LDP. Also, the party also tried to curb effect of the global recession by instituting several policies. DPJ government has not been very successful in reconciling the above problems and thus the party’s ratings have deteriorated rapidly.
Although Japan has made progress towards development of a multi party politics, LDP still holds a lot of power. This is due to established bureaucratic and business relationships. This factor has been detrimental to Democratic Party of Japan efforts in reforms and implementation of policies. Therefore, continued effort from various stakeholders is imperative towards Japan’s efforts of establishing competitive multi party politics.
Jaysheree, Bojoria. 2009. The Rise of Political Opposition in Japan. 2009. Web. 04 April 2012. < http://www.cfr.org/japan/rise-political-opposition-japan/p20097>.
Kikuchi, Hisashi. Sagawa no kane kutta akutoku seijika [The immoral politicians who took Sagawa’s money] : Tokyo: Yamanote Shobo Shinsha, 1992. Print.
Shugart , Mathew and Wattenberg, Martin. Mixed-Member Electoral Systems. London: Oxford, 2003. Print.