Japan is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary government. There is universal adult suffrage with a secret ballot for all elective offices. Sovereignty, previously embodied in the emperor, is vested in the Japanese people. The Emperor is defined as the symbol of the state, and unlike other constitutional monarchies, plays no role in government. Japan's Government is a parliamentary democracy, with a House of Representatives (also known as the Lower House, elected at least every four years, with the possibility of snap elections at shorter intervals) and a House of Councillors (sometimes called the Upper House, who serve six year terms with fixed elections every three years). Executive power is vested in a cabinet composed of a prime minister and ministers of state, all of whom must be civilians. The prime minister must be a member of the Diet and is designated by his colleagues. The prime minister has the power to appoint and remove ministers, a majority of whom must be Diet members.
Japan does not have a federal system, and its 47 prefectures are not sovereign entities in the sense that U.S. states are. Most depend on the central government for subsidies. Governors of prefectures, mayors of municipalities, and prefectural and municipal assembly members are popularly elected to 4-year terms.
Japanese politics are renowned for an absence of ideology. Leaders jostle for power, not over ideas. Few fundamental ideological differences divide parties (apart from the Communists, who oppose the US-Japan Mutual Security Treaty and want to abolish the Self Defense Forces). Japan was a one-party system prior to a coalition government in the early 1990s, and the brief interlude of DPJ government (2009-12). The DPJ government was consumed first by imposing unreasonable seiji shudo (political leadership) on the bureaucracy.
Media projections on 21 July 2013 showed the LDP and New Komeito winning more than 70 of the 121 seats up for grabs in the 242-seat upper house. Half of House of Councilors [the upper chamber] 242 seats are up for election every three years. The Democratic Party of Japan 44 held seats and fielded 55 candidates, but exit polls by major media groups showed that it would not win even 20 seats — a record low for the party. The DPJ retained an additional 42 seats in the chamber that will not be contested until the next Upper House election in 2016. Securing a comfortable majority requires Abe’s LDP and its junior coalition partner, New Komeito, to obtain a total of 129 seats, including the 59 seats already held that are not being contested. Opinion polls by domestic media had indicated the ruling bloc wass almost certain to gain a majority, putting an end to the divided Diet that had stymied legislation since 2007.
Although changes to the Constitution, including a revision of the war-renouncing Article 9, would greatly alter the shape of the nation, the issue did not get much attention from voters. The ruling coalition fielded 99 candidates by the time election offices stopped accepting registrations. If all those running on the LDP and New Komeito tickets were elected and joined the ruling camp’s 58 seats in the chamber that were not beingn contested, the total would come to 157 seats. A total of at least 162 seats would be needed for the two-thirds majority needed to amend the constitution. Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), the third-largest opposition party, was once considered a potential ally that might help Abe rewrite the Constitution. But the party’s popularity plunged. In the weeks before the election, predictions were that the LDP would win 57 to 66 seats and New Komeito around 10, for a total of 125 to 134 seats. Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), co-headed by former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, seemed likely to gain around six seats.
Abe said after the polls closed 21 July 2013 that he will gradually start discussions on amending the Constitution. “We need a majority in both Diet chambers to revise” Article 96, Abe said. “Since we were granted political stability, we will calmly deepen the debate.” Abe needed the cooperation of the opposition camp, namely Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) and Your Party, because New Komeito, which is backed by the pacifist Buddhist lay group Soka Gakkai, opposes his quest to revise Article 96 because this would make it easier for him and the LDP to amend the war-renouncing Article 9. Your Party dropped its support for revising the article just before the campaign kicked off, saying there are other priorities. DPJ lawmakers such as former Prime Minister Yoshihiko have views are very similar to the LDP’s, especially on the Constitution and on collective self-defense. Abe may try to split the DPJ by bringing the constitutional revision to the table.
The ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and its junior partner, New Komeito, decided not to extend the Diet session, which meant the Upper House election would be held on 21 July 2013. They concluded that it was unnecessary to keep the Diet open beyond the session’s closing date of 26 June 2013. The Upper House was controlled by the opposition camp. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe indicated 30 May 2015 that he was disinclined to dissolve the House of Representatives and call a snap election to coincide with the triennial House of Councilors poll. The prime minister was seeking the combined two-thirds majority in both Diet chambers needed to propose an amendment to the Constitution.
Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party believes that the current Constitution was created under the heavy influence of the U.S. Occupation and it is no longer sufficient to “protect the people, territory and sovereignty.” Among many constitutional amendment plans, the ruling party aims to revise the war-renouncing Article 9 to enable the Self-Defense Forces to become a full military. The Constitution has not been amended since it was enetered into force in 1947. Abe’s LDP can rely on the support of the Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) and other political groups to achieve the two-thirds majority in the more powerful Lower House. According to an 03 May 2013 Nihon Keizai Shimbun newspaper/TV Tokyo poll, only 28 percent of respondents objected to constitutional amendments – the lowest level of opposition in the eight years of the poll. However, among the 56 percent supporting amendments, only 30 percent favored changing Article 9 of the Constitution, which renounces war as a sovereign right.
On 18 November 2014 Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called a snap election for 14 December 2014 in hopes of delaying an increase in the sales tax to 10 percent in 2015. The hike was legislated by the previous administration to curb Japan's huge public debt. Japanese lawmakers said postponing the planned increase by a year-and-a-half could add about half a percent to growth. Japan slipped into an unexpected recession in the third quarter of 2014 after logging negative growth for the second consecutive quarter.
Abe's ruling coalition won a landslide victory in lower house snap elections 14 December 204, despite a low voter turnout. Exit polls showed the conservative Liberal Democratic Party and its junior partner, Komeito, winning 326 seats, one more than a two-thirds majority, in the 475-member lower house. Of these, Komeito won 35 seats. The election would provide a fresh mandate of four more years to implement some of the less popular elements of his "Abenomics" strategy. The election win will make it easier to pass unpopular reforms like deregulating labor and farm policies. It also will likely allow Abe to pursue a nationalist agenda likely to antagonize South Korea and China.
The largest opposition group, the Democratic Party of Japan, won 73 seats, 11 more than its pre-election strength of 62. But DPJ President Banri Kaieda lost his seat. The Japan Innovation Party won 41 seats. The Japanese Communist Party won 21 seats, more than doubling its pre-election strength of 8. It was the first time in 14 years for the party to secure 10 or more seats.
The LDP-Komeito coalition held a two-thirds majority in the 475-seat Lower House and a simple majority in the 242-seat Upper House. If the ruling bloc gained 86 seats in the Upper House election 2016, it will be able hold a national referendum on revising the Constitution. In his first news conference of 2016, on 04 January 2016, Abe denied speculation that he will hold a Lower House election simultaneously with the Upper House race in July 2016. Thirty-two constituencies in which one seat is up for grabs will determine who wins the upper house election.
On 20 February 2016 Leaders of five opposition parties - Democratic Party of Japan, JCP, Japan Innovation Party, Social Democratic Party and People’s Life Party & Taro Yamamoto and Friends - agreed to cooperate in campaigns for the House of Councillors election in July 2016. Cooperation between five parties with differing fundamental principles could be criticized as unprincipled, bu this reflected a judgment that only joint opposition candidates can defeat their top rival, the Liberal Democratic Party. In response, some in the LDP are pressing for a countermove by dissolving the House of Representatives to hold elections for both houses simultaneously.
On 25 February 2016 the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) announced it would merge with the Japan Innovation Party (Ishin) and adopt a new name - Democratic Party [DP]. The DPJ won just 73 of the 475 seats contested in the 2014 election, while Ishin took 21. Jun Okumura, a visiting scholar at the Meiji Institute for Global Affairs, described the merger of the DPJ and Ishin as “a reunion of old flames; two parties with nowhere to go, not much of a future, no core constituencies and no star power”.
The realignment in the opposition came as the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) declared that it will refrain from putting forward candidates in some constituencies in the anticipated elections. The JCP took 21 seats in the 2014 general election, an increase of 13. JCP dropped its candidate in Hokkaido, so voters opposed to the LDP could back the single anti-LDP candidate, who already had the backing of the DPJ and several other parties.
Though the prime minister denied the possibility of a double upper and lower house election at a press conference on the evening of 29 March 2016, the DP believes it is highly likely that the elections will be held on the same day. If that is the case, the chances of the election being held for the current 475 seats are great, and the DP would have to field 238 candidates if it was to aim for a majority. For the moment, however, the party only had about 190 candidates, and would have to field about 50 more in a short span of time.
Opposition parties such as the Japanese Communist Party, the Social Democratic Party, and the People's Life Party & Taro Yamamoto and Friends sought that opposition parties back the same candidates against ruling coalition candidates. If the DP were to go ahead with fielding and backing its own unique candidates, the other opposition parties are expected to express strong objections.
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