Impact of the Japanese Election, August 2009

Impact of the Japanese Election, August 2009

On August 30, 2009, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) accomplished a historic landslide victory over the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan (LDP), which launched DPJ member Yukio Hatoyama into the Prime Ministership. Prime Minister Hatoyama was inaugurated as Prime Minister on September 16. Except for a brief period from 1993-94, the Liberal Democratic Party had held the prime ministership nonstop from 1955 until September 16 of this year. This election offers many teachable lessons, ranging from viewing how the development of a competitive two party system affects policy to possible changes in the US-Japan and Japan-East Asia relationships.

For those unfamiliar with Japanese politics, some basic background information might be helpful. Japan has a parliamentary democracy encoded in its Postwar Constitution. From 1946 until 1955, there was competition amongst a number of parties to lead Japan. However, from 1955 until this year, the LDP has manage to gain a stranglehold on the Prime Ministership. At times, the LDP has had to form a coalition with other parties, most recently the Shin Komeito or Clean Government Party, but often without the need to form a coalition. The DPJ was founded in 1996. Many of its members are former members of the LDP who defected for various reasons over the year. As a Parliamentary democracy, the Prime Minister and Cabinet are all elected members of Parliament.

As can be seen in the articles and webcasts highlighted below, there are a number of challenges facing the DPJ, and their election offers many questions about both Japan and the democratic system, that can be explored in the classroom. Amongst the questions that many have raised, and can be used in the classroom, are:

1. Why was the DPJ able to win? Does it reflect real support for DPJ proposals, or is it more an indication of frustration with the LDP? What does the DPJ stand for?

2. What are the main challenges facing the DPJ?

3. The DPJ has said that they want to control the bureaucracy. What do they mean by this? Why would it be important for elected politicians to control appointed bureaucrats? What problems might occur if career bureaucrats become less important?

4. Do you think that this election will lead to a more competitive two party or multiparty system in Japan? How might this development be good for Japan? How might this development hurt Japan?

5. How do you think the election will affect US-Japan relations?

Some useful articles about the election and its implications include:

Weekly Report/ Politics: After 13 hectic years, DPJ takes over” Asahi Shinbun, September 12, 2009
Provides a good overview of the history of the DPJ and its leadership.

Hatoyama's historic Cabinet in business” Asahi Shinbun, September 17, 2009
Quick overview of what the new cabinet intends to accomplish

Hatoyama Ushers in New Era in Politics” Japan Times, September 17, 2009
Brief overview of the historic importance of the new cabinet

Bureaucratic Reform First Hurdle” Japan Times, September 17, 2009
Explains the challenges the DPJ faces to create bureaucratic reform, and outlines the DPJ policies to reform the bureaucracy.

"Cabinet's support rate 72%" Japan Times, September 18, 2009
Shows the DPJ's high approval rating.

Hatoyama Cabinet” Japan Times, September 16, 2009
Brief profiles of each member of the cabinet

Webcast: “Japan Election 2009: Political, Economic, and Security Implications for the Future
Jun Saito of Yale University (and former diet member representing the DPJ), Christina Davis of Princeton, and Edward Lincoln of NYU speculated on the implications of the election in this panel discussion moderated by Ken Karube, New York Bureau Chief for Jiji Press.

Asahi Shinbun Editorial: “New Dawn in Politics” Asahi Shinbun, September 17, 2009
One of Japan’s major newspapers offers its editorial opinion about the potential for the new cabinet to create change in Japan.

DPJ English Homepage
The English Language website of the DPJ offers outlines of a number of their key policy proposals.

DPJ "Manifesto"
Includes picture.

LDP English Homepage
Thia English Language website contains the LDP policy proposals.  Note: it has not been updated since before the election.

Note: Japan Society is a non-partisan, American non-profit organization and takes no official position regarding Japanese governmental policies or Japanese political parties.