Japan’s One-Party-Dominated Democracy
The recent election held in Japan at the end of October 2021 was the 49th general election in the lower house within the legislative body, the National Diet, since the end of World War Two. However, throughout this time period, Japan has barely had any party turnover. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has won nearly every election up to the present day and was even re-elected this year despite dealing with a serious wave of COVID-19 and holding an extremely contentious Olympic Games most Japanese citizens didn’t support. The party’s key to success comes from its ability to shift leadership and policies to suit the interests of voters. The recent election showed its willingness to place trust in the voters to continue supporting the LDP as the dominant party in Japanese politics.
The LDP formed at the beginning of a significant regime change in Japan following the end of the Second World War. Before, there were many more parties in the country, especially among the political left, as many officials of the previous regime were forced out of power during the U.S. occupation. The remaining politicians and party members on the political right coalesced into a much more conservative Liberal Democratic Party at the request of the CIA. This request was to ensure that left-wing parties would not take control of what was becoming an important ally to the U.S. during the Cold War against the Soviet Union.
Consequently, this consolidation made the LDP a party of many political factions that still managed to propel Japan’s economic success throughout the second half of the 20th century. By embodying a diversity of ideologies, the LDP has made a large swath of voters feel as though their values are being represented. For example, newly-elected Prime Minister Fumio Kishida belongs to a faction of the LDP that wants to enact significant change, but to gain enough support, he sided with the more conservative and nationalist factions, with which previous PMs, Yoshihide Suga and Shinzo Abe, the longtime leader of the party, were affiliated.
The LDP’s competition
The most recent shift in the LDP’s leadership comes after Yoshihide Suga resigned from office due to poor support, particularly after his decision to continue the Olympics. Thus the LDP had to vote for a new leader as Yuga did not assign someone to replace him. The leadership vote to replace Yuga was amongst only LDP party members but was confirmed in the lower house passed on party lines. However, as new PM Kishida took office in October, he called for a general election to show that he has support from Japan’s voters.
A major focus of Japan’s future will be to limit any more severe COVID-19 outbreaks and restart the economy as vaccination rates reach high levels. Taro Kano, the minister in charge of the vaccination rollout, was one potential pick for prime minister. Amongst other party members seeking the leadership position, at least four competitors emerged. However, in terms of political ideology, Kishida was much closer to what was expected of the next PM by party leaders.
The other parties with the potential to win more seats included the Constitutional Democratic Party and the Japanese Communist Party, which make up the two largest oppositional and left-wing parties within the lower house. However, they did not live up to expectations, as the LDP won a large majority of seats. Along with a few other opposition parties, they had created a pact to establish a strong package of policies to reform much of the status quo in Japanese society. Largely oriented towards addressing domestic issues, the policies included non-nuclear decarbonization, an increase in taxes for the rich, and the elimination of constitutional clauses regarding national security. This would have been an attempt to address the issues that arose from the LDP rule. Their success depended on their appeal to independent voters that would have had to turn out at the election to unseat enough LDP members. Ultimately, however, the independent voters required for an upset were absent at the polls on October 31st. Electing such a large coalition with the ambition to pass these reforms would have resulted in a significant change in politics in Japan.
What is expected from the new Prime Minister?
With Kishida leading the country, many hope that there will be a major change in politics to address transnational issues, such as COVID-19 and security in the South China Sea. He has also sought to reform parts of Japanese society that are most in need, which includes implementing tax raises on capital gains and businesses to ease the burden on the middle and lower classes. This puts him at a difference from many in his party who support the more corporate-minded policies of the last two prime ministers.
As the former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Kishida has the necessary experience to create serious foreign policy changes for Japan. This is important because, with the rise of China, Japan faces competition in both security and economic strength. As a former industrial powerhouse, Japan has lost some of its authority to China, and thus needs to improve its standing in East Asia. When it comes to important diplomatic ties, and ensuring security and international trade, both the U.S. and South Korea are significant countries to sustain good relationships with.
It is important to understand the advantages and disadvantages of one-party dominance. A single party’s continued rule can bring stability and confidence in the future. However, if said party falters and loses the trust of the citizens, it must adapt to demands. The LDP is an example of this in action. This election shows that Japan’s citizens expected that the LDP could address the new issues facing Japan as they have for a long time now. It shows that the LDP is still willing to adapt to what is expected from the ruling party governing Japan.