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Politics of Japan

There is still dispute as to whether Japan is a constitutional monarchy or a republic. It has a parliamentary government, which consists of three branches: the executive branch, the legislative branch and the judicial branch. Sovereignty is vested in Japanese nationals by whom officials are elected in all of the branches. There is universal adult suffrage with a fair, reliable, secret ballot. For historical reasons, the system is similar to that in the United Kingdom.

National Diet building in Tokyo

Table of contents
1 Government Structure
2 Recent political developments
3 Other facts
4 References

Government Structure

Japan no longer officially has the traditional federal system, and its 47 prefectures depend on the central government for subsidies. Governors of prefectures, mayors of municipalities, and prefectural and municipal assembly members are popularly elected for four year terms.

Sovereignty, which was previously embodied in the Emperor, is now the domain of the people. The Emperor is defined as the symbol of the state.


By the Constitution, the Diet is the most powerful of the three branches and consists of two houses, the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors. The Diet directs the Emperor in the appointment and removal of the chiefs of the executive and judicial branches.

At present, the following political parties are represented in the National Diet:

Note: The New Conservative Party (Hoshu Shinto) merged with the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan on November 10, 2003 ("Hoshu Shinto to merge with LDP").

The LDP has been the dominant party for most of the post-war period since 1955, and is composed of a several factions which are oriented along personalistic rather than ideological lines.


The executive branch reports to the Diet. The chief of the executive branch, the Prime Minister, is appointed by the Emperor as directed by the Diet. He must be a member of the House of Representatives and a civilian. The Cabinet, which he organizes, must also be civilian. The Constitution states that the majority of the Cabinet must be elected members of either house of the Diet, the precise wording leaving an opportunity to appoint non-elected officials too. The Prime Minister has the power to appoint and remove ministers.

In cases when the Liberal Democratic Party (the LDP) has been in power, it has been convention that the President of the LDP serves as prime minister.


The judicial branch is independent of the other two. Its judges are appointed by the Emperor as directed by the Diet.

Japan's judicial system, drawn from customary law, civil law, and Anglo-American common law, consists of several levels of courts, with the Supreme Court as the final judicial authority. The Japanese Japan Constitution, drawn up on May 3, 1947 includes a bill of rights similar to the United States Bill of Rights, and the Supreme Court has the right of judicial review. Japanese courts do not use a jury system, and there are no administrative courts or claims courts. Because of the judicial system's basis, court decisions are made in accordance with legal statutes. Only Supreme Court decisions have any direct effect on later interpretation of the law.

Recent political developments

The post-World War II years saw tremendous economic growth in Japan especially with the Korean War in 1950-53, with the political system dominated by the LDP. That total domination lasted until the Diet Lower House elections on July 18, 1993, in which the LDP failed to win a majority.

A coalition of new parties and existing opposition parties formed a governing majority and elected a new prime minister, Morihiro Hosokawa, in August 1993. His government's major legislative objective was political reform, consisting of a package of new political financing restrictions and major changes in the electoral system. The coalition succeeded in passing landmark political reform legislation in January 1994.

In April 1994, Prime Minister Hosokawa resigned. Prime Minister Tsutomu Hata formed the successor coalition government, Japan's first minority government in almost 40 years. Prime Minister Hata resigned less than 2 months later.

Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama formed the next government in June 1994, a coalition of his Japan Socialist Party (JSP), the LDP, and the small Sakigake Party. The advent of a coalition containing the JSP and LDP shocked many observers because of their previously fierce rivalry.

Prime Minister Murayama served from June 1994 to January 1996. He was succeeded by Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, who served from January 1996 to July 1998. Prime Minister Hashimoto headed a loose coalition of three parties until the July 1998 Upper House election, when the two smaller parties cut ties with the LDP.

Hashimoto resigned due to a poor electoral showing by the LDP in those Upper House elections. He was succeeded as party president of the LDP and prime minister by Keizo Obuchi, who took office on July 30, 1998.

The LDP formed a governing coalition with the Liberal Party in January 1999, and Keizo Obuchi remained prime minister. The LDP-Liberal coalition expanded to include the New Komeito Party in October 1999.

Prime Minister Obuchi suffered a stroke in April 2000 and was replaced by Yoshiro Mori. After the Liberal Party left the coalition in April 2000, Prime Minister Mori welcomed a Liberal Party splinter group, the New Conservative Party, into the ruling coalition. The three-party coalition made up of the LDP, New Komeito, and the Conservative Party maintained its majority in the Diet following the June 2000 Lower House elections.

After a turbulent year in office in which he saw his approval ratings plummet to the single digits, Prime Minister Mori agreed to hold early elections for the LDP presidency in order to improve his party's chances in crucial July 2001 Upper House elections. On April 24, 2001, riding a wave of grassroots desire for change, maverick politician Junichiro Koizumi defeated former Prime Minister Hashimoto and other party stalwarts on a platform of economic and political reform. Koizumi was elected as Japan's 87th Prime Minister on April 26, 2001.

On October 11, 2003, the Prime Minister Koizumi dissolved the lower house after he was re-elected as the president of the LDP. (See Japan general election, 2003)

Other facts

Independence: 660 BC (traditional founding by Emperor Jimmu)

Legal system: modeled after European civil law system with English-American influence; judicial review of legislative acts in the Supreme Court; accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction, with reservations


See also: