Measuring Democracy: Japan Essays Examples

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Japan, Democracy, Politics, Elections, Party, Government, House, World

Pages: 5

Words: 1375

Published: 2020/11/04

Located in Eastern Asia, Japan is one of the world’s biggest and most technologically advanced countries. Rising from the ashes of World War II, Japan rose to become a technologically advanced economy through strong work ethics, among others. Today, Japan is considered the third-largest economy as of 2013 after the US and China (World Bank 2014), despite the slowdown of its economy in the 1990s (BBC 2014). It is home to some of the world’s biggest industries in motor vehicles, electronic equipment, machine tools, steel and nonferrous metals, ships, and processed foods (WorldFactbook 2014). Constantly under threat of earthquakes, Japan’s population is mostly distributed in cities located along the coasts of its four islands. It is a traditional society (BBC 2014) under a parliamentary form of government with a constitutional monarchy (WorldFactbook 2014). The objective of this essay is to determine whether Japan is a democracy. Towards that end, the three measures of democracy commonly used in comparative politics literature are employed to scrutinize its political and civil sructures. These measures are the Democracy-Dictatorship Measure, Polity IV, and Freedom House.
A scrutiny of the four conditions set forth under the Democracy/Dictatorship Index developed by Cheibub, Gandhi and Vreeland in 2010 (cited Clark et al 2012, 152) indicated that Japan is a democracy. First, Japan meets the requirement of having an elected Chief Executive. Although the Chief Executive, called Prime Minister, is appointed by the legislature from among its members, the members themselves are elected at large by a direct vote of the people. In Japan, those who have reached the age of 20 are qualified to vote in the electoral process (Abe 2015). 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).
Second, 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).
Third, 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).
Finally, 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.
According to the Center for Systemic Peace website the Polity IV score for Japan is 10 (2014), which means it is a full democracy. Japan scored perfect in all four indicators of democracy and 0 in all four indicators of autocracy. Democracy indicators are determined from coding in the following: competitiveness of executive recruitment; openness of executive recruitment; constraint on chief executive, and; competitiveness of political participation (Marshall et al 2013, 15). In the first criteria of competitiveness of executive recruitment, Japan scored high because of its highly competitive mechanism of selecting Prime Ministers. Japanese PMs are chosen by the dominant party in the Parliament from among their ranks. With about 9 political parties contending in elections, Japanese elections are very competitive. For example, the LDP is the dominant party for years in the Parliament, but it has been occasionally ousted from this position by its rivals (Polity Country Report 2010, 2). The stiff competition of PM recruitment is reflected in the many changes of PMs since 1996. Since 1996, there have already been 10 PMs that occupied the chief executive position in the country, namely: Ryutaro Hashimoto, Keizo Obuchi, Yoshiro Mori, Junichiro Koizumi, Shinzo Abe, Yasuo Fukuda, Taro Aso, Yukio Takuyama, Naoto Kan, Yoshihiko Noda (Kantei 2015) and the present administration of Shinzo Abe, who just got reelected in 2014 after a snap election (BBC 2014).
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).
Japan also meets the third criteria of constraint on the Chief Executive. The CE 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 is without a doubt a democracy. This is the unequivocal conclusion that one can get after subjecting it to a scrutiny using the three measurement models of D/D Measure, Polity IV and Freedom House’s Freedom of the World. All three measurement models generated the same results leading to the conclusion that Japan is a democracy. Reaching this conclusion, therefore, did not have to entail a lot of brainstorming, handwringing nor require a judgment call. The results are all clear and simple - all three consistently ranked and rated Japan as a democracy. In all three measures, particularly Polity IV, Japan received top ratings and not merely passing ones. In D/D Measure, all four questions are answerable by ‘yes’; in Polity IV, Japan passed all criteria for democracy and none of the autocracy indicators, and; in Freedom House Japan was rated 1 for both political and civil rights - the highest rating the survey gives. Articles and news reports also reflect and support such finding. These comparatively high ratings given to Japan by these measurement models leave no room for a diverging conclusion as the finding that Japan is a democracy has become a foregone conclusion.


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AFE. 2009. “The Government of Modern Japan: Elections. Asia for Educators, Columbia University.”
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Clark, William, Golder, Mark and Golder, Sona. 2012. Principles of Comparative Politics. CQ Press.
Center for Systemic Peace 2012. Polity IV Country Report 2010: Japan.
Center for Systemic Peace 2014. Polity IV Individual Country Regime Trends, 1946-2013.
EB 2014. “List of prime ministers of Japan.” In Encyclopaedia Britannica.
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Freedom House 2015. Japan. world/2014/japan#.VNdQwSyzn78.
Hoffman, Michael. 2013. “Men cry discrimination as women’s status rises.” Japan Times. discrimination-as-womens-status-rises/#.VNhzMSyzn78
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Marshall, Monty, Gurr, Robert and Jaggers, Keith. 2013. Polity IV Project: Dataset Users’ Manual.
World Factbook 2014. “East and Southeast Asia: Japan.” In Central Intelligence Agency.

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