Is Japan a democracy


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With the exception of a few years, Japan has been ruled by conservative parties since World War II. From its formation from the merger of the Liberals and the Democratic Party in 1955 to the election defeat in 1993, the "Liberal Democratic Party" (LDP) held government responsibility for almost forty years.

The Japanese parliament has two chambers, the upper house (Sangiin) and the lower house (Shūgiin) shown here. (& copy picture-alliance / AP)


With the exception of a few years, Japan has been ruled by conservative parties since World War II. From its formation from the merger of the Liberals and the Democratic Party in 1955 to the election defeat in 1993, the "Liberal Democratic Party" (LDP) held government responsibility for almost forty years. Scoffers have repeatedly claimed that the LDP is neither liberal nor democratic nor a party. It is correct that the LDP, for example, takes conservative rather than liberal positions in education and justice policy. It is more an amalgamation of individual political groups (so-called factions) concentrated around certain leaders than a western party oriented towards common political ideals. One of the consequences of this is that political and internal party personnel decisions are not always transparent, but are often made by "party barons". These party barons are in many cases current or former leaders of the factions within the party.

The first factions arose at the time the party was founded as support groups for individual candidates for the party chairmanship. It has traditionally been the task of the faction leaders to provide their followers with party or cabinet positions and to support them financially. The attraction of the individual factions therefore has a lot to do with the sum total of basic political convictions, charisma and money-collecting abilities of the respective faction leaders.

Liberal Democratic Party

A pronounced economic orientation and close ties to the USA in foreign policy have characterized the government policy of the LDP since the 1950s. As part of its economic policy, the LDP has always placed particular emphasis on taking the interests of large companies into account. However, she has also understood how to retain important groups of voters such as farmers and small and medium-sized enterprises through a subsidy and protection policy. The central task of LDP politicians has usually been to ensure that material benefits such as infrastructure projects are channeled into their constituencies via good lines to the power center in Tokyo, the so-called "pipelines". The necessity of this mediating activity is a result of the strong political centralization in Japan. A reform of the policy in the sense of orienting the activities of the elected officials towards independent policy formulation instead of self-serving mediation of interests can therefore only be expected if we succeed in promoting decentralization and federalization in Japan and thus strengthening political and fiscal autonomy at the regional and local level .

Social Democratic Party

The Socialist Party of Japan, founded in 1955 and officially renamed the "Social Democratic Party" (SDP) in 1995, was the most important opposition party until the early 1990s Non-recognition of the Japanese self-defense forces) as well as their relative weakness in the countryside, the SDP never really had a chance of assuming sole government responsibility. Rigid ideological convictions prevented the party from developing a political program that could have turned the SDP into a real people's party. Up until the early 1990s one could speak of a "one and a half party system" of the Liberal Democrats and Socialists in Japan.

That a long stay in government can lead to corrupt relations and entanglements between the state and the economy has been revealed several times in Japan. Corruption scandals, in which a number of leading LDP politicians were involved, increased particularly at the end of the 1980s. The reason for this was not least the immensely high costs for election campaigns and for the "care" of those entitled to vote in the time between the ballots. For example, traditionally Japanese politicians are expected to give small gifts of money at important festivities and memorial services. At the same time, there was no state funding for political parties until 1995, which led to a constant need for corporate donations. Large-scale fundraising activities thus became an important task for politicians and their personal secretaries.

Recent development

Tired of the LDP's "politics of money", the people of Japan elected a coalition of eight parties in 1993, all of which had come under the banner of political reform. These parties, however, were to a large extent split-off products from the LDP. These split-offs were based on a complex mixture of motives: In the case of a number of conservative politicians, for example, the desire to distance themselves from the scandalous felt relations of the LDP and dissatisfaction with their unwillingness to reform played a role in the Turning away from one's own party, but also power struggles within the largest LDP faction such as election tactical considerations, contributed to the founding of the party.

A conservative renewal party soon emerged as the central force, which at the end of 1994 united with some small parties, including the Buddhist "Komeito" and the "Democratic Social Party" (DSP), to form the "New Progressive Party" (NFP). The core demands of the official political program of the NFP were to curb the power of the bureaucracy, make citizens more self-reliant and give Japan a clearer foreign and security policy profile. The party was unable to implement much of its program during its time as part of the new government coalition, as it fell apart again in 1994 and was replaced by a coalition made up of the LDP, SDP and the small "New Herald Party". The 1996 elections finally brought the temporary end of the brief "era of coalition governments" in Japan; the LDP was able to regain undivided political power within the framework of a minority government.

The biggest losers in the political restructuring process since the early 1990s have been the socialists. With a brief interruption, you were involved in all coalition governments between 1993 and 1996, together with the New Herold Party. The SDP reacted to this new role in government responsibility as well as to the new political challenges for the parties that had arisen as a result of the end of the Cold War: It threw overboard central political positions such as the demand for the termination of the security treaty with the USA, the non-recognition of the Japanese self-defense forces or the rejection of nuclear power plants. In doing so, however, the party alienated many of its traditional voters. Above all, they turned to the "Democratic Party of Japan" (DPJ) founded in September 1996 by some MPs from the SDP and the New Herold Party, a further split from the LDP, and the increasingly moderate "Communist Party of Japan" (KPJ) . From the 1996 elections, the former second largest party in Japan emerged only as the fifth force behind the LDP, the NFP, the DPJ and the CPJ.

The restructuring process of the party spectrum that began in 1993 cannot, however, be considered to be over by a long shot. Too much, the newly created parties are still rather loose alliances around some leaders. Further splits, party dissolutions and mergers are therefore to be expected for reasons of election tactics. A clear new constellation of conservative, liberal and other political parties, possibly in the form of a strong Anglo-Saxon two-party system, can therefore be expected at the beginning of the 21st century at the earliest.