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Ending the LDP Hegemony

Ray Christensen

Publication Year: 2000

From its founding in 1955 and for the next thirty-eight years, Japan's conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) won all but one national election and selected every prime minister and nearly every cabinet member. Other democracies have had similarly dominant parties, but none approaches the LDP for longevity in power and complete dominance of the political scene. Then, in 1993 a political earthquake transformed Japan from a country of unchanging one-party rule into a nation of ever-changing and free-flowing political coalitions. For the rest of the decade the LDP struggled to regain its position of dominance and for the most part succeeded. At the end of the millennium the LDP lacked a majority in the House of Councillors, the upper house of the Japanese Diet, but it was nevertheless strong and confident once again while the opposition was in disarray. The LDP's loss of control in 1993, however brief, made obsolete much of what had been written on Japanese politics. Ending the LDP Hegemony answers the need for an up-to-date analysis of the political scene, providing both the information and framework needed to unravel the tangle of coalition politics in the 1990s and anticipate the composition and policies of future Japanese governments. It is the first study in English to focus on and put into historical context interparty relations in Japan. Western scholars and media heretofore have focused either on the LDP's successes or the peculiarities of the individual opposition parties, ignoring interparty relations that are well known to the Japanese. Ray Christensen offers here a new perspective on the interaction among members of the Democratic, New Frontier, Japan Socialist, Japan Communist, Democratic Socialist, and Clean Government parties, as well as on their general political orientation and tactics. He challenges the assumption that the LDP's accomplishments can be attributed to its being the most efficient, capable, and intelligent party, and describes in detail the strategies of the opponents, demonstrating the political savvy of their leaders. His analysis of key data on cooperation and elections reveals that opposition parties actually outperformed the LDP. This study not only fills a gap in our understanding of modern Japanese politics, it is also adds a critical non-European perspective to analyses of opposition politics and social democracy. It argues that the Japanese experience requires a modification of analytical frameworks, which are based almost exclusively on Western European examples, and questions those who support a more authoritarian, "Asian" model of democracy by revealing the vibrancy of the opposition in Japan and the technical reasons for the LDP's success. Ending the LDP Hegemony amply demonstrates that democracy, indeed Western-style democracy, can take root and flourish in the fertile soil of East Asia and offers the experience of Japan's opposition parties as crucial evidence of Japanese democracy. It will be essential reading for all those interested in the functioning of democracy in Asia and other non-Western settings.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. v

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pp. vii

I have had the privilege of working and studying at several universities while preparing this book. The Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies at Harvard University supported my research as a graduate student by purchasing a data set of Japanese elections. The National Science Foundation...

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1. Stereotypes of Success or Failure in Japanese Politics

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pp. 1-8

History is the story of winners, and of the inevitability of their triumphs. Rarely is a losing candidate noticed, much less praised, after an election; the virtue cited, if any, is usually graceful defeat. Governments that lose wars, are unstable, or suffer an economic recession...

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2. The LDP Fall from Power

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pp. 9-35

On 29 January 1994, the last day of an extended legislative session, both Houses of the Japanese Diet in a combined session approved political reform legislation. This legislation changed the Japanese electoral system, put greater restrictions on political fund-raising, and...

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3. Strategic Dilemmas and Options of the Opposition

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pp. 36-68

The twists and turns of Japanese politics in the 1990s seem to support the conclusion that the opposition parties failed in their attempt to wrest power from the LDP. The few who have paid attention to this ignominious record have blamed the incompetence...

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4. Electoral Cooperation in Japan

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pp. 69-122

Nineteen seventy-one was a watershed year for electoral cooperation in Japan. It marked the first time the political parties had formally cooperated in a national election. Their cooperation efforts have continued unabated since then. In the following three decades, four...

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5. Party Cooperation and Strategies of Party Reorganization

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pp. 123-154

In 1970, a Japanese journalist wrote an account of the events surrounding the formation of the two coalition governments of 1947–1948, which included the Socialist Party. Unfortunately, the author could find no publisher for his work. At that time, there was little...

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6. Successes and Failures of the Opposition Parties

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pp. 155-191

Superficial evidence seems to suggest that the Japanese opposition has utterly failed. The LDP ruled Japan for thirty-eight uninterrupted years, until 1993, and it returned to power in 1994, reconstructing its parliamentary majority in 1997. Hrebenar...

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7. The Future of Japanese Politics

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pp. 192-196

How does this analysis of opposition efforts and interparty cooperation help predict the future trajectory of Japanese politics? Prediction is a difficult task in politics. Because I claim that explanations of events share some commonalities and are not entirely idiosyncratic...


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pp. 197-209

Works Cited

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pp. 211-219


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pp. 221-228

E-ISBN-13: 9780824862374
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824822309

Publication Year: 2000