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Japan - Government

The Japanese government, a constitutional monarchy, is based on a parliamentary cabinet system. Executive power is vested in the cabinet, which consists of the prime minister and not more than 17 ministers of state that collectively are responsible to the Diet. The prime minister, who must be a member of the Diet, is designated by the Diet. In practice, the prime minister is always a member of the House of Representatives. The prime minister has the power to appoint and dismiss the ministers of state, all of whom must be civilians and a majority of whom must be members of the Diet.

The old provision reading "the Emperor is head of the Empire, combining in Himself the rights of sovereignty, and exercises them," has been changed so that the power of deciding how the country is governed is clearly vested in the people. Under the constitution of Japan, the emperor is the symbol of the state, and has no powers related to the government. He performs only those ceremonial acts that are stipulated in the constitution, such as awarding honors - all on the advice and approval of the cabinet.

The Constitution is pacifist. The Preamble is clear about the national resolve to remain a peaceful nation, and Article 9 specifies that Japan renounces war.

Japan's constitution became effective on May 3, 1947, and consists of 103 articles. The Constitution of Japan is based on the principles of popular sovereignty, respect for fundamental human rights, and the advocacy of peace. Japan’s political system is one of constitutional democracy. In accordance with the principle of “separation of powers,” the activities of the national government are formally divided into legislative, judicial, and executive organs.

The emperor is “the symbol of the State and unity of the people.” The emperor appoints the prime minister and chief judge of the Supreme Court as designated by the Diet, and performs “only such acts in matters of state” as provided for in the constitution along with the advice and approval of the cabinet, such as promulgation of amendments of the constitution, laws, cabinet orders and treaties, convocation of the Diet, dissolution of the House of Representatives, and so forth.

The Constitution of Japan proclaims a system of representative democracy in which the Diet is “the highest organ of state power.” As such, national politics are centered on the Diet. To ensure that the interests of a wide spectrum of voters are addressed, the Diet is bicameral, with a House of Representatives (lower house) and a House of Councillors (upper house). The membership of both houses consists of lawmakers chosen in national elections in which citizens 20 years old or over participate.

A bill submitted to the Diet by the cabinet or a lawmaker is deliberated separately in the two houses. As a rule, it passes into law after both houses approve it. The Diet also decides on the budget compiled by the cabinet, approves treaties, designates the prime minister, and performs other functions.

If both houses had equal authority, it would be impossible to pass legislation or other measures in the event of disagreement, and the Diet would become paralyzed. The lower house thus has constitutionally guaranteed superiority in certain cases. Specifically, in vital matters like the designation of the prime minister, passage of the budget, and approval of treaties, the lower house's decisions are upheld in case of disagreement. In other legislation, too, the House of Representatives can override an upper house rejection by passing the bill a second time.

There are several political parties in Japan. In December 2012, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) lost its parliamentary majority and its administration was subsequently replaced by a government-led coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the New Komeito. The party currently holding the greatest number of seats in the Diet is the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), of which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is leader. Other parties include the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), the Japan Restoration Party, the Party for Future Generations, the Your Party, the Japanese Communist Party, the People's Life Party, the Social Democratic Party, the Green Wind Party Japan, the New Party Nippon, the New Party DAICH and the New Renaissance Party.

Judicial power lies with the Supreme Court and lower courts, such as high courts, district courts, and summary courts. The Supreme Court consists of a chief justice and 14 other justices, all of whom are appointed by the cabinet. Most cases are handled by district courts. There are also summary courts, which deal with problems like traffic violations. A lay judge system was introduced in May 2009. Under this system, six adult citizens (20 or over) are chosen at random to act as lay judges in criminal cases tried in district courts.

There are 47 prefectural and numerous municipal governments in Japan. Their responsibilities include providing education, welfare, and other services and building and maintaining infrastructure, including utilities. Their administrative activities bring them into close contact with local people. The heads of regional governments and local assembly members are chosen by local people through elections.

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Page last modified: 07-08-2016 15:18:42 ZULU