Good Essay About Measuring Democracy: Japan
Constitutionally, Japan is a parliamentary democracy. A parliamentary democracy is one which follows a pattern of delegation and accountability, from the voters to the elected representatives “in which at each link a single principal delegates to one and only one agent, or to several non-competing ones, and in which each agent is accountable to one and only one principal“ (Stram et al 2006, p. 65). Japan’s parliamentary democracy is characterized by a system of parliamentary cabinet where a close relationship between the legislature and the cabinet exists. Thus, the government and the cabinet begin their existence when the legislature forms them, and on the other hand, that same government it forms has the power to dissolve it (Harukata 2013). In 2014, for example, PM Shinzo Abe called for a snap election after his economic reforms called ‘Abenomics’ had a rough sailing in the Diet. The elections resulted in the overwhelming victory of his party, the Liberal Democratic Party, paving the way for his re-election as PM (BBC 2014).
The chief of state of Japan is the emperor, i.e., Emperor Hirohito, but he is only a ceremonial head of state. Japanese emperors acceded to the throne by virtue of birthright. On the other hand, the head of the government is the Prime Minister. The PM is the chief executive and is chosen by the dominant party in the parliament or the Diet the members of which are elected by the people. The PM traditionally comes from the House of Representatives (HR hereafter) and is empowered to appoint all members of his cabinets as long as they are civilians and preferably a member of the Diet. Technically the PM has a term of four years, which coincides with the term of office of the members of the HR, unless dissolved, but in practice Japanese PMs held office for less after post-war because the LDP, which has dominated the Diet, has a 2-year limit for their president (Shinoda 2000). The power of the PM to dissolve the lower house has made the upper house comparatively stronger and is being blamed for the short turn-over of Japanese PMs (Tomoaki 2013).
Japan has an elected legislature, which meets the second requirement of the D/D Index. The legislature or Parliament is called Diet and is composed of the House of Councilors or sangi-in and the House of Representatives or shuugi-in (Abe 2015). The House of the Representatives is the lower house, and its 500 members are elected for a 4-year term. Of the 500, 300 members are voted as representatives of their districts, while the remaining 200 are voted through a process called proportional representation. Under this system, voters vote for a party, and not individuals. Parties are given seats in the Diet in accordance with the percentage of votes they received and parties then assign their top candidates to the seats allocated to them. On the other hand, the House of Councilors has 252 members, all of whom are limited to a six-year term. The elections for the members of this House take place every three years for half of its membership, and a subsequent election in three years for the other half (AFE 2009).
Japan’s new electoral system adopted in 1995 is a mixed system of majoritarian and proportional representation (AFE 2009). The reform was underpinned by the need to eliminate excessive intra-party competition. Political parties were weaker than political individuals, so that even within parties politicians often clashed resulting in internal division. Often, there is no party unity and individual party interests often prevail over party interests. With the reforms, it is hoped that there will be greater party unity (Christensen 2000). Thus, today voters go to the polls to elect member of the House of Representative, they are given two ballots each. On the first ballot, they write the candidate they choose for the district they belong to. The candidate that gets the highest vote in that district is the district’s representative to the lower house. On the second ballot, the voter writes the name of the party he or she wants to represent the region that he or she belongs in. There are such 11 regions in the country. The seats are allocated to the winning parties in accordance with the proportional number of votes cast for it in that district. Thus, if a party gets 30% of the votes cast in a district, it is given 30% of the seats allocated to that district (Curtis 2015). Thus, in the new system, party strength and power is given emphasis.
There are more than one parties competing in Japan elections, which meets the last requirement of the D/D Index. Some of the known political parties in Japan are the following: Democratic Party of Japan or DPJ, Japan Communist Party or JCP, Japan Restoration Party or JRP, Liberal Democratic Party or LDP, New Komeito or NK, People's Life Party or PF, Social Democratic Party or SDP, Tomorrow Party of Japan or TPJ, and Your Party or YP (World Factbook 2014). The LDP is the dominant party in Japan and is known for its conservative stand. In 1993, however, the Morihiro Hosokawa-led coalition wrested control of Parliament. The competition for power did not end there as the LDP once again regained control of the Parliament after it entered into a coalition with the Japan Socialist Party, a left-of-center political party. On the other hand, the Democratic Party is considered the largest opposition party in Japan, especially after it merged with three other political parties (Ito 1998).
The reason why there are so many political parties in Japan is its party system is characterized by splits and merger. The mergers resulted from expediency and temporary convenience until infighting causes splits and merger with other parties. Nonetheless, the LDP has enjoyed the longest duration in terms of holding political party (Bhagwan and Bhushan 2010). With the unfettered multiparty system and intra-party conflicts, Japan’s system is, thus, a primary democracy which emphasizes widespread competition and conflict and contestation, including unfettered conflicts (Werlin 1994).
Japan meets the requirement of power alternation. Since 1945, Japan has had about 34 turnovers of Prime Ministers (EB 2014) despite the fact that the LDP has been the dominant party for so long. The mere fact that a Chief Executive willingly steps down after another is appointed in his or her stead (Clark et al 2012, 153) should meet the alternation of power condition, even though the next PM still comes from the same party.
The process entailed in the recruitment of the Japanese PM can, thus, be characterized as wide open and transparent to the public because of its simplicity. If a party obtains the dominant position in the Diet, it automatically gets the right to choose the PM from among its members (Polity Country Report 2010, 2). The Chief Executive is dependent on the Diet for support. Without that support, the PM cannot pass the important policies he or she wants to adopt and worse he or she can be ousted from the position. This usually happens when his party mates subsequently lose faith in his leadership or when an opposing party subsequently wrests the majority of the legislature (Polity Country Report 2010, 2). This was illustrated in the case of PM Shinzo Abe who had difficulty passing his economic reforms because the majority in the legislature did not support them. He was forced to call for a snap election that turned out in his favor because of the overwhelming victory of his party, the LDP (BBC 2014). This showed the existence of mechanisms within the Japanese political system that can clip or check the powers of the PM.
Finally, Japan has competitive political participation. This is so because Japan’s electoral system is competitive, institutionalized and open. This competitiveness even exists within parties resulting in factionalism. Thus, although the LDP is often the dominant party, factionalism has caused its loss of dominance in 1993 to a 7-party coalition, which instituted political reforms to weaken the LDP (Polity Country Report 2010, 2).
As of 2014, FH rated Japan as a ‘Free’ country. Its freedom rating is 1, with 1 as best and 7 as worst, and its civil liberties rating is also 1, using the same scale of 1 to 7. Japan has a score of 12/12 in the electoral process and an overall score of 37/40, which means that it qualifies as an electoral democracy. Japan is also a liberal democracy because it has a rating of 1 for civil liberties meaning that it enjoys a substantial number of civil liberties. For example, FH reported that Japan’s press is private and independent, and competition among the various media is alive and vigorous. Similarly religion and academic freedoms are unfettered from government interference. FH gave Japan’s associational and organizational rights a score of 11/12 attesting to the freedom of the people to assemble and seek redress for grievances. Rule of law was also rated high at 15/16 because of the independence of Japan’s judiciary and the constitutional guarantees against discrimination of all forms. However, the survey observed that discrimination against women in employment still exists, but this did not matter much as it still got 13/16 in personal autonomy and individual rights (Freedom House 2015). On the other hand, there are accusations that the government gives women preferential status as can be seen from the introduction of trail lines with cars for women only, interview pass rates that favor women over men and similar measures recently introduced by the government (Hoffman 2013).
Japan enjoys a robust democratic system, with institutions that abide by democratic ideals. Nonetheless, these democratic institutions are sometimes being threatened by lack of order and basic formal rules that sometimes bring about an atmosphere of instability. Thus, for several years many Japanese PMs served only terms of less than 2 ½ years although his term is co-terminus with that of the HR. This is because of intra-party fighting where vested interests of individuals prevail over party or nation interest. With the exception of one party, many Japanese political parties come and go when circumstances warrant them. Hopefully, Japan’s new electoral system can gradually stabilize its institutions in the long run.
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