Wednesday 18 Jul 2018 | 03:41 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 18 Jul 2018 | 03:41 | SYDNEY

A new one-party democracy for Japan


Malcolm Cook

3 September 2008 09:05

The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) of Japan may be the most successful election winning machine in the democratic world. It has been in control of the powerful Lower House in the Japanese parliament — as a single party or the predominant party in a ruling coalition — for about 99% of Japan's post-war democracy. Damn impressive!

However, since Prime Minister Koizumi stepped down in 2006, talk of a true two-party electoral system in Japan and of a significant realignment of political power and parties has steadily increased in volume and credibility. Koizumi is seen to be the major player in this potential political revolution. (Actually the first publication I ever wrote for the Lowy Institute back in early 2005 touched on these issues.)

Prime Minister Fukuda's sudden resignation has added new and fresh tea leaves to the bottom of this cup. Even the leader of Komeito, the junior party of the LDP in the ruling coalition, is publicly musing about realignment. Fukuda's fall from power is largely due to the paralysis of the Japanese bicameral system as the Democratic Party (which controls the Upper House, under their soon to be re-appointed leader, Ichiro Ozawa) has blocked and delayed most of Fukuda's main legislative priorities. Many in the LDP and outside are seriously countenancing a Democratic Party win in the next election (to be held within the year) with or without Komeito switching sides.

Many would see this as the ushering in of a true two-party system, but I wonder if the future of Japanese politics is not that of a new one-party system. Most realignment scenarios revolve around the progressive, pro-Koizumi forces in the LDP joining up with the more conservative forces in the Democratic Party, and the more centrist forces of the LDP joining up with the more centrist forces of the Democratic Party backed by Koizumi and maybe Ozawa. This would leave the less electable rumps of the LDP and Democratic Party adrift. Rumps that could not feasibly join together or act as a serious, electable opposition to the new centrist party. If Aso does not become Prime Minister and help the LDP revive its dismal electoral standing,  Japan could be heading for a revived one party democracy, just not an LDP-led one.