Political system in Japan

1. Prime Minister and the Cabinet

In Japan, Prime Minister (PM) is elected from Lower House members and appointed by both Houses.  In practice, the head of a leading ruling party usually serves as PM. One can serve 4 year term for as many times as s/he is elected. PM 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 has been serviing as Japan's PM since December 26, 2012. He is already the 3rd longest serving PM in Japan after the WWII. Shigeru Yoshida who signed the Peace Treaty with Allied Powers in 1951 is currently the 2nd longest, having served for a little over 6 years between 1948 to 1954. Eisaku Sato who accomplished the return of Okinawa from US is the longest, having served for little under 8 years between 1964 to 1972.  

2. Diet

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 coalition havs been winning the clear majority of both Lower House (in 2012 and again in 2014) and Upper House (in 2013 and again in 2016). 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 
    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. Currently, the party is headed by Ichiro Matsui who is a governor of Osaka prefecture.  
  • 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.