1. Prime Minister and the Cabinet
In Japan, Prime Minister is elected among diet members and appointed by the Diet. In practice, the head of a leading ruling party usually serves as Prime Minister. One can serve 4 year term for as many times as s/he is elected. Prime Minister appoints or disappoints ministers. The majority of cabinet ministers have to be members of the parliament. With ministers heading ministries, the cabinet is an executer of manifesto, or promised policies because the cabinet can propose matters to the Diet (approximately 80% of the laws that pass the diet originates with the cabinet).
Mr. Shinzo Abe currently serves as the Prime Minister.
Japan's Diet consists of The House of Representatives and The House of Councilors. The former is often called "Lower House" and the latter "Upper House". Any legal amendment/ proposals must pass both houses by majority vote to be effective. 475 Representatives shall be elected every 4 years, while half of 242 Councilors shall be elected every 3 years to serve 6 year terms. Next elections are scheduled for July 2016 for the Councilors. For the Representatives, the next election must be held before December 2018 when their term expires, but the Prime Minister can dissolve the House and call for an election as he did in 2014.
Under the leadership of Prime Minister Abe, the current ruling parties won the clear majority of both Lower House (in December 2014) and Upper House (in July 2013). See below table for the by-party composition of Upper and Lower House. The definition of abbreviation are given in the next section.
3. Political Parties
Since 2007, two parties, LDP and DPJ, have been the main forces determining political landscape in Japan. Major political parties in Japan are as follows:
Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)
A long-standing political party established in 1955. It has conservative and pro-business tendencies. The party has been ruling Japan for most of the period between 1955 and 2009 except for a brief period between 1993-94 and 2009-2012. It is currently the leading ruling party.
Komei party was originally established in 1961 as a political arm of a religious group, Soka Gakkai. Soka Gakkai is a faith based on Buddhism. Since 1999, the party tended to form an alliance with LDP and it is currently a junior ruling partner to LDP. The party has a support base among the elder population.
Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ)
DPJ was established in 1998 as a "centre" party by a mixture of political group including former members of LDP and other centre to leftist parties. The party has a support base among labor unions, but it also seeks to extend its support in the rural areas as well. The party was the leading ruling party between 2009 to 2012.
Japan Innovation Party (JIP)
The party was formed when Japan Restoration Party, headed by Toru Hashimoto, and Unity Party, headed by Kenji Eda merged together in 2014. The party pursues a liberal, market based economic policies, while having a nationalistic and hawkish tendencies in security policy areas.
People's Life Party (PLP)
Established in 2012 by a breakaway group of parliamentarians from DPJ led by Ichiro Ozawa. The party lost heavily in the last two national election in 2012, 2013 and 2014 and at the risk of being eliminated as a party. The party currently has anti-consumption tax, anti-nuclear power, anti-free trade policy as its main policies.
Japan Communist Party (JCP)
Established in 1922, Japan Communist Party is one of the oldest existing political party in Japan. During the cold war, the party and its supporters has often been politically prosecuted as a potential allies to socialist block. While such perception has diminished in recent years, most political parties tend to still avoid being perceived as an ally to JCP. Its support base is in the urban areas. In the 2014 lower house election, JCP was perceived as one of the only opposition party offering a coherent set of economic policies and doubled its seats in the lower house.