The Japanese Constitution, which was effected in the year 1947, is based on the fundamentals of popular sovereignty, the protagonism of peace, and respect for basic human rights. The political system of Japan is one of constitutional democracy. Contrary to other systems like the American and the British political systems, which fundamentally have existed in their present form for many years, the current political system of Japan is a much more recent concept dating from Japan's defeat in the World War two and its consequent occupation by the United States. The 1947after-war constitution is an anti-militarist document that includes the repudiation of the right to engage in war and forbids the maintenance of armed forces even though later a restricted self-defence force was allowed.
The constitution was composed under the Allied occupation. It is an inflexible document and, as its adoption, no main amendment has been done on it.
Indisputably Japan is a self-governing country, but it is a very different type of democracy to that popular in most countries in Europe like France and Germany. The sole most significant reason for this is the predominant position of a single party known as the LDP that has been ruling for over 50 years. According to the separation of powers principle, the national government’s activities are officially categorized into judicial, legislative, as well as executive organs.
Japan is a constitutional monarchy in which the Emperor’s power is very confined. As a ceremonial figurehead, the Emperor is outlined by the constitution as the state symbol as well as of the people’s unity. This is a dramatic dissimilarity to how the situation was before the wartime defeat of Japan by the Americans when the Emperor was considered as divine. The Prime Minister is selected for a four years term, even though the political commotion of the system of Japan is such that he seldom serves a full term. He has to win a majority in the Diet, in a sole signed ballot if both houses cannot arrive at an agreement, the House of Representatives’ decision always reigns. The formal residence of the Prime Minister is referred to as the Kantei. Shinzo Abe is the current Japanese Prime Minister serving under the Liberal Democratic Party. The Prime Minister appoints his Cabinet, which is restricted by a constitutional amendment of 2001 to an extra 14 regular members and the possibility of three members who are special. At least half of the Cabinet has to be Diet members (Krauss & Nyblade, 2005).
The legislature of Japan is referred to as the Diet or Kokkai and is a two-chambered structure. In general, decision-making is usually on the basis of a majority vote, although a two-thirds majority is needed in special incidences. The lower house in the political system of Japan is the House of Representatives or Shugiin. It holds 480 seats and members hold a four-year term, even though just one time since the war a full term has been held. Out of the 480 seats, 300 are elective positions from one-member constituencies while the other 180 are elective positions from 11 multi-member constituencies through a proportional representation system. The House of Representatives has eminence over the House of Councillors and may go through a no confidence vote in the Cabinet. The House of Representatives may be disbanded by a Cabinet or the Prime Minister vote of no confidence.
The upper house in the political system of Japan is the House of Councilors or Sangiin. It contains 242 seats and members of the house stay in their positions for a six-years term. Just half of members of this house are re-elected at each election each three years, by use of a parallel system of voting. Out of the 121 members who are subject to election every time, 73 are elected from the 47 prefectural districts by one transferable method of the vote while the 48 are elected from a countrywide list by proportional representation. This proportional representation element was introduced in 1982 in an attempt to fight the impact of huge sums of money being used on campaigns of election. The House of Councillors cannot be disbanded (Web Japan, 2013).
If the two houses have a disagreement on matters of treaties, the budget, or the Prime Minister’s designation, the House of Representatives can take a firm stand on its decision. In every other decision, like the Bill passage, the House of Representatives may overrule a House of Councillors vote only through a two-thirds majority of present members.
Traditionally, the political system of Japan has been predominated by a single party in a way, which is not known in Europe and North America democracies. The single party is the conservative Liberal Democratic Party. Since its foundation in 1955, it has been ruling at all times, except for an ephemeral coalition government created from opposition parties for a period of 11 months in 1993 as well as for the recent period of three years between August 2009 and December 2012. In the December 2012 election, Liberal Democratic Party stormed back to power with a number of 294 House of Representatives seats.
Another key party is the social liberal Democratic Party of Japan. It was created in the year 1998 from a union of four antecedently independent parties, which were opposed to the Liberal Democratic Party that was in power. In the August 2009general election, it won a convincing triumph, taking 308 out of the 480 seats. In the December 2012 election, the party's back up collapsed to just 57 seats. Nevertheless, it is still the biggest party in the House of Councillors. In Japan, the situation where different political parties are in control the two houses is referred to as a twisted Diet.
Another crucial political party is New Kōmeitō that traditionally affiliates itself with the Liberal Democratic Party. In the elections held in December 2012, it garnered 31 seats. In other words, the LDP together with the New Kōmeitō have a command of 325 votes in the lower house, and this gives them a supermajority in the lower house of parliament which has 480 seats. This is over the two-thirds of seats required to supersede a veto by the upper house that is usually in control by the opposition.
The Japan Restoration Party is another party that was only formed three months prior to the December 2012 election to the House of Representatives but was able to win 54 seats, which was more than what the DPJ got.
Throughout history, the Liberal Democratic Party dominance in the political system of Japan has deeply shaped the political nature of this country compared to other democracies. Because there was efficiently no scope for altering the ruling party, the conflicts have been more within the Liberal Democratic Party rather than among political parties. Consequently, a detailed and all-encompassing system of camarillas operates in the Liberal Democratic Party. This affects both Diet houses, even though they affect the House of Representatives more than they do to the House of Councillors.
These factions are on the basis of persons as much as on policies, commonly Liberal Democratic Party veteran members, several of them previous or aspirant Prime Ministers. The size and number of the factions are continually deviating members to as many as 120. Currently, there are three main factions in the Liberal Democratic Party. As a majority of factions has formal titles, in the Japanese media they are normally referred to by their current leaders’ names. Presently, there are three key factions namely Kouchi Kai, Seiwa Seisaku Kenkyukai, and Heisei Kenkyukai.
The Democratic Party of Japan has some factions, even though the party is not as factionalized as the Liberal Democratic Party, which has habitually placed high precedence on intra-party alignment of faction.
A distinguished feature of Japanese politics is the family connections’ influence. Several parliament members are the children or grandchildren of former Diet members, normally members of Liberal Democratic Party. The old Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama represented the tradition whereby his grandfather was the first Prime Minister of Liberal Democratic Party in 1954-1956. His father was at one time the Liberal Democratic Party Foreign Secretary, and he inherited the seat of his father seat in Hokkaido in the year 1986. His younger brother was a Liberal Democratic Party member in the last Government. The historic victory of the Liberal Democratic Party has relied less on generalized mass plea than on the sanban, which includes kaban, jiban, and kanban.
The Supreme Court is the top court in Japan. The Chief Justice is nominated by the Emperor after selection by the Cabinet. Other fourteen judges are chosen and nominated by the Cabinet. After every 10 years, tenure of justice has to be affirmed through referendum. Practically, the justices are usually reselected and are permitted to be in service until they are 70 years of age (Web Japan, 2013).
Throughout history, the Supreme Court has played little role, averting controversy as well as holding the status quo. Consequently, individual Court members are almost not known to the public. Ever since the late 19th century, the judicial system of Japan has been mainly based on civil law of Europe, particularly that of Germany and France. With after World War II changes, this legal code stays in effect in contemporary Japan (Web Japan, 2013).
The Japanese political climate has changed in a very impressive manner since the early 1990s. During over ten years of economic stagnancy, the people of Japanese and political leaders realized the need to have more efficient political leadership. The termination of the Cold War had contracted the division between the left and the right wings of political parties and made them attain a compromise. In addition top of this, a chain of money scandals unfolded a window of chance for change. The decade beginning from 1993 when the Liberal Democratic Party government was replaced by an opposition parties’ coalition was a period of important change in Japan (Hori, 2005). A number of efforts were made to alter the political system of decision-making and to reinforce political leadership. First, the electoral reforms package introduced in 1994 changed the fundamental conditions of the Japanese party politics. House of Representatives elections had for a long time been held under the medium-sized constituency system. Every voter cast one non-transferable vote while there were three to five elective seats in a constituency. This entailed that any party looking for a majority of seats had to have over two candidates in a majority of constituencies.
The Liberal Democratic Party candidates in tight competition against one another were much interested in pork barrel matters since they could barely be distinguished on policy issues. In most instances, every Liberal Democratic Party candidate in one constituency was not given support by the party’s constituency branch but by another faction that made the organization of the party something similar to a franchise system. Consequently, the Liberal Democratic Party leader had great trouble in controlling members of LDP in Parliament.
The politics of Japan has long and extensively been recognized for its failure to deliver punctual policy changes. Japanese Prime Ministers have not taken part in an active role to start reforms. They seem relatively passive and weak through comparison with the government heads of other democratic nations like the France, United Kingdom or Germany. Between 1945 and 2009 there have been 31 Prime Ministers in Japan. Cabinet Ministers do not relish enough longevity either. They just survive for an average of below one year. The fast Ministers’ turnover has made a situation where they cannot exercise leadership in their own ministries. In every ministry, senior civil servants have been more powerful in determining public policy more than their Ministers. The administrative official-dominated system of decision-making is not new to Japan. The bureaucracy was an essential element in the course of modernizing Japan all through the nineteenth century second half.
Following the loss of Japan in World War II, the Allied Occupation required to rely on the existing bureaucracy to perform its reforms and, as a result, did not manage to reduce the bureaucrats’ power. But the bureaucratic rule’s tradition was apparently even more strengthened under the long rule of the Liberal Democratic Party, which spread over more than a half century since 1955 apart from a short gap between August 1993 to June 1994. The most reasonable clarification for frequent ministerial reorganizations was the ruling party’s fragmented structure (Oyama & Takeda, 2010).
The Liberal Democratic Party was something like an alliance of factions, such that the Prime Minister had to deal with Cabinet Ministers who were not essentially loyal to him. Party, as well as, cabinet posts were considered as resources that the Prime Minister could dispense among factions to conserve unity of the party. Leaders of faction who in turn needed Cabinet posts to assign to their members exerted pressure on the Prime Minister to perform earlier Cabinet reorganization. At times, they even attempted to substitute the Prime Minister. It would be a single thing if the failure to attain agreement on this matter, or on raising the consumption tax, or on making modifications in the allocation of the lower house seats that the Supreme Court has made unconstitutional ruling or on other issues were settled in basic disagreements on policy. However, that is not the case.
After the Democratic Party of Japan started ruling in 2009, the positions of policy of the DPJ and the LDP on main domestic, as well as foreign policy matters, have come together. The inability to arrive at an agreement is not on the basis of philosophical differences or deep policy but primarily on strategic calculations of political benefit (Oyama & Takeda, 2010).
For over a century, Japan outlined its national objectives in terms of trying to overtake the West. Since the late 1980s, having attained that catch-up objective, it has been lamming about attempting to make a decision on what is to be done for an encore. Having not been able to outline a large vision for the country, political elite of Japan has become fixated on strategic maneuvers to use petty political dissimilarities to gain political benefit. Incredibly, the LDP upheaval from power in 2009 and the 2011 tragedy of Tohoku earthquake appear to have only escalated the flight from serious debate on policy (Asia Program Special Report, 2004).
The political system of Japan differs very much from those of democracies in the west, even though the institutions may look similar at the beginning. The Diet or Kokkai has little real power. Traditionally, the Liberal Democratic Party factions have been more significant than the other political parties have, and cabinet meetings are short and mainly ceremonial. The Prime Minister is weaker than his colleagues in other democracies are and normally has comparatively brief office tenure. Japanese society’s power in is exerted less by politicians and more by industrialists and civil servants. This triumvirate of big business, bureaucrats and politicians in Japan is referred to as the Iron Triangle.
It is believed that the August 2009 general election, which led to a Democratic Party government, had brought change, even though the come back of the Liberal Democratic Party during the month of December in 2012 takes the political system of Japan back to its historical norm. In deed, the power of the set up the civil service bureaucracy and the deep problems of economy facing the country mean that practically the modifications in policy will not be as key as the election result may imply.
Asia Program Special Report. (2004). Japanese Political Reform: Progress in Process. Retrieved March 30, 2013, from faculty.washington.edu/pekkanen/Pekkanen%20WWC%20report.pdf
Hori, H. (2005). The Changing Japanese Political System: The Liberal Democratic Party and the Ministry of Finance. Oxford: Taylor & Francis.
Krauss, E. S., & Nyblade, B. (2005). ‘Presidentialization’ in Japan? The Prime Minister, Media and Elections in Japan. B.J.Pol.S, 35, 357–368.
Oyama, R., & Takeda, T. (2010). Weaknesses in Japan’s Postwar Politics. Retrieved March 30, 2013, from sticerd.lse.ac.uk/dps/is/IS552.pdf
Web Japan. (2013). Governmental Structure. Retrieved March 30, 2013, from http://web-japan.org/factsheet/en/pdf/e08_governmental.pdf