U.S. State Department Geographic Bureaus: East Asia and Pacific Bureau

Coalition Politics in Japan

Fact sheet released by the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs,
U.S. Department of State, July 31, 1997.

Blue Bar rule

Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) currently has less than a majority in both houses of the Diet, Japan's parliament. The LDP rules, however, with "support from outside the cabinet" from the Social Democratic Party (SDP, formerly the Japan Socialist Party) and the small Sakigake party. As a result, all members of the prime minister's cabinet are members of the LDP.

The LDP enjoyed single-party rule from 1955 until mid-1993, when the government passed to a multi-party coalition led by Morihiro Hosokawa of the (now-defunct) Japan New Party. Hosokawa was succeeded by Tsutomu Hata in April 1994, but Hata's minority coalition government lasted only two months. In June 1994, the LDP returned to power as part of a coalition with the then-Japan Socialist Party (for decades the bitter rival of the LDP) and Sakigake. Although the LDP had more than twice as many seats as the Socialists in the powerful Lower House at the time, Socialist Party Chairman Tomiichi Murayama became prime minister as part of the bargain between the LDP and the Socialists.

After one-and-a-half years as prime minister, Murayama stepped down in January 1995, and was replaced by Hashimoto. Hashimoto presided over the coalition until he called a general election in October 1996. In the election, the LDP gained seats but was unable to secure a majority. Both the SDP and Sakigake suffered severe losses and opted not to rejoin the LDP in the coalition but rather to cooperate from outside the government.

Current party strength in the Diet (as of July 1997) is as follows:

Party

Lower House

Upper House

LDP

240

112

SDP

15

22

Sakigake

2

3

NFP

142

61

Democrats

52

22

Communists

26

14

Sun Party

10

3

Other

4

11

Independent

9

4

Total

500

252

Because Japan's political parties each include members with widely varying positions, it is difficult to describe in simple terms the parties' policy lines. However, in general, the LDP and New Frontier Party are conservative; the Democratic Party, Sakigake and Sun Party are somewhat reformist; and the Social Democratic Party is left-of-center. Most analysts view the current party line-up as transitional, but are divided over whether a two-party system, similar perhaps to that in the United States, will emerge in Japan.

[end of document]

Blue Bar rule

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