Imperial diet is the first modern legislature to be established in 1890; it was established under Meiji Constitution of 1889; this was Japan’s first constitution. The Meiji Constitution was based on the assumption that the Emperor of Japan possessed all the powers and sovereignty of Japan’s government. The Imperial diet was comprised of the House of Representatives and the House of Peers; the two houses were responsible for aiding the emperor in exercising his legislative authority. Only the members of the House of Representatives were elected directly by the public, while the voting rights were assigned to a few wealthy individuals. Furthermore, there were strict restrictions regarding political participation. Thus, it can be argued that the Meiji Constitution did not establish a democratic form of government.
The Constitution of Japan is the country’s current constitution, which was enacted in 1946. The constitution made fundamental changes to Japan’s political system. The sovereignty of the state is granted to the people while the Emperor if the country’s symbol of the nation without any form of political power. The Diet and the Legislature are comprised of the House of Representatives and the House of counselors. The Diet is a representative of the people and the people elect all its members. The Constitution grants voting rights to all citizens regardless of education, sex, or wealth. Furthermore, the Constitution guarantees political freedom as a fundamental human right; thus, it can be argued that modern-day democracy is established in the country.
The Constitution of Japan allows its citizens to elect their representatives; thus, the public does not participate directly in the legislative process. Furthermore, the government has established a distinctive electoral process, which allows various small parties to be represented in the Diet. Therefore, there is a high fragmentation of the political parties in Japan. Furthermore, the electoral process is not designed to facilitate voting, and there is still a massive mal-apportionment between the rural over-represented areas and the urban under-represented areas. This has assigned a stronger political power to the local voters. Lastly, the country has still retained a strict restriction on political participation; members of the public are not allowed to take an active role in politics; thus, a strong apathy towards politics has been maintained. Thus, the country has not succeeded in establishing a fully participatory democracy.
Political System in Japan
The government of Japan is run as a constitutional monarchy; however, the powers held by the Emperor are very limited. He acts as the ceremonial figurehead and the Constitution defines him as the symbol of the state and unity of the people. Power is bestowed upon the Prime Minister and other elected members of the Diet; however, the people of Japan hold the sovereignty of the country (Fukuoka 102). The Emperor acts as the head of state and represent the country in diplomatic missions.
The National Diet or Kokkai acts as the legislative organ in the country and is a bicameral parliament. Decisions are reached based on a majority rule; however, there are special cases that warrant a two-thirds majority vote. The Diet is comprised of the House of Representatives and the House of Councilors. The House of Representatives acts as the lower house in Japan’s political system. The House is comprised of 480 seats; 300 members are drawn from single-member constituencies, while the remaining 180 members are drawn from 11 multi-member constituencies via a system of proportional representation (Fukuoka 132). The members are elected once every 4 years through a popular vote, or when the House is dissolved. On the other hand, the hand, the House of Councilors is comprised of 242 seats; the members are elected on for a 6-year term in office. The country upholds universal suffrage for all citizens over the age of 20 years, for a secret ballot on all offices run by the people’s representative. The House of Representatives maintains supremacy over the House of Councilors, and has the power to pass a vote of no confidence in the entire cabinet. The Prime Minister or the Cabinet through a vote of no confidence dissolves the House of Representatives. In cases where the two houses disagree on issues concerning the budget, treaties, or the Prime Minister’s designation, the House of Representative has the power to insist on its decisions. In all the other decisions, the House of Representatives has the right to overrule the vote of the House of Councilors through a two-thirds majority vote (Shigenori 64).
The prime Minister acts as the head of government. The Emperor of Japan appoints the prime Minister after the Diet’s designation for a designated 4-year term. In cases where the two Houses of the Diet cannot agree on a single candidate, the decision of the House of Representatives prevails. He must be a member of the Diet and must enjoy the House of Representative to retain the office. The Prime Minister heads the Cabinet; he is responsible for appointing and dismissing the Ministers of State. The majority of the ministers must be drawn from the Diet.
Conventionally, a single political party, the Liberal Democratic Party, dominated Japan’s political system. However, in the 1990s, several anti-LDP parties merged to form the Democratic Party. The Party rose to be the largest party in Japan. The government established public funding of political parties in 1994. The dominance of Liberal Democratic Party in Japan’s political system had a huge impact on the country’s politics (Krauss and Pekkanen 204).
The Electoral Systems of Japan
Japan’s Constitution adopts a representative democracy and warrants universal suffrage, equality in voting, and the secrecy of the ballot as the major principles of the election. The principles are stated in the chapter on Rights and Duties of the People and are applied in the elections of all the members of the National Diet, the local assemblies, and the heads of the local authorities. The first sentence of the Preamble states that the Japanese people acting through their duly elected representatives proclaim that the sovereign power rests with the people and firmly establish the Constitution. Thus, in line with this sovereignty principle, the Constitution grants all the people their voting rights. The Constitution declares that people have an absolute right in choosing and dismissing their public officials (Shigenori 84; Article 15, Section 3); and that universal suffrage at the age of 20 years and above is guaranteed with regards to elections of all public officials (Shigenori 86; Article 15, Section 3). Furthermore, the Constitution declares all individuals equal under the law, and eliminates any form of discrimination on the political, economic, or social treatment basis; all citizens have an equal right in the election of the members of both houses. Thus, the constitution guarantees equality in both the opportunity to vote and the value of each vote. Furthermore, the Constitution guarantees a secret ballot, and no voter shall be coaxed to announce his or her voting decision. Lastly, all the elections are based on the representative democracy principle. Persons elected via public elections are not required to represent a certain populace; however, they represent all the nationals as a whole.
The Constitution states that the Diet shall be made up of two houses; the House of Representatives and the House of Councilors. The two houses shall be comprised of elected members who will represent all people. The number of members of each house shall be determined by the constitution; thus, the Constitution leaves the discretion of determining the design of the election system to the Diet; the law shall determine the qualifications of the members of both houses. Furthermore, the law shall determine the electoral districts method of voting and other issues concerning the elections of members of both houses (Shigenori 128; Article 47).
An Aspect of Japan’s Electoral System That Should Be Adopted in the US
Japan’s electoral system is distinctively different from that of the United States. The House of Representatives is comprised of 500 members who are elected for a 4-year term. Three hundred members are elected from single-seat constituencies; this is similar to the United States system where a single voter casts one vote and the winning candidate is determined based on the number of votes. However, the remaining 200 members are elected from 11 voting blocs via proportional representation; under the system, voters vote for a political party rather than a political candidate (Fukuoka 224). The number of Diet seats allocated to a party is determined based on the number of votes a party garners, and each party allocates the seats to its top candidates based on their ranking from prior elections.
The members of the House of Councilors are elected for a 6-year term. The elections are held for half the members of the house every 3 years. In every House of Councilors elections, 126 seats are at stake; 24 members are elected from single-seat constituencies, 52 members are elected from multi-seat constituencies, and the remaining 50 members are elected via proportional representation from multi-seat constituencies (Fukuoka 228). There are between 3 and 5 candidates contesting in a multi-seat district, as opposed to the single candidate in the United States. The voters have one vote; however, the candidates who win the greatest number of votes are all winners. For instance, in a 3-member district with 5 contestants; A, B, C, D, and E garner 54 percent, 23 percent, 12 percent, 6 percent and 5 percent respectively, the winners for the elections are A, B, and C. C and D are losers and do not win any seat.
In conclusion, the proportional representation in the election of the members of the House of Representatives and proportional representation in multi-seat constituencies is a valuable feature of Japan’s electoral system. The United States should adopt this aspect as a measure of increasing its national representation, reducing the costs of elections, and eliminating political competition between members of the same political parties. Furthermore, the United States should implement Japan’s feature where all members of a political office represent all the citizens of the United States rather than a certain populace. This would be an effective way of promoting better representation.
Fukuoka, Masayuki. Nihon no senkyo:[Elections in Japan]. Tokyo: Waseda University Press,
Krauss, Ellis, S., and Pekkanen, Robert, J. The Rise and Fall of Japan's LDP: Political Party
Organizations as Historical Institutions. New York: Cornell University Press, 2010.
Shigenori, Matsui. The Constitution of Japan: A Contextual Analysis. Oxford: Hart Publishing,