AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 542

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Session 542: Japan’s Political Transition - Sponsored by The Japan Foundation, Center for Global Partnership

Organizer: Gene Park, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom

Chair: Susan J. Pharr, Harvard University, USA

Discussant: Susan J. Pharr, Harvard University, USA

While the LDP has been out of power before, the Diet election of 2009 was a watershed event in postwar Japanese politics. In 2009, a single opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), scored a landslide victory that completely reversed the fortunes of the long-ruling LDP. The DPJ came to power promising not only a different set of policies – such as expanded welfare benefits and a new foreign policy – but also a different kind of politics, one that redefined the relationship between politicians and bureaucrats and also reshaped the policy-making process. Since coming to power the DPJ has embarked on a new course, but it has also come against the hard reality of very real political constraints from scarce budgetary resources to bureaucratic intransigence to the exigencies of the international environment. As an opposition party, the LDP has had to redefine itself and refine its political message. This panel will discuss the larger meaning of the tectonic shift in Japanese politics brought about by the 2009 election. Specifically, the panel will discuss the origins of this historic shift, how it has shaped the organization of political parties and their relationship to interest groups, and the implications for policy-making.

The End of LDP Dominance and the Rise of Party-Oriented Politics in Japan
Ethan Scheiner, University of California, Davis, USA

The LDP’s loss of power was the most obvious major outcome of the August 30, 2009 election. This result constitutes the end of single-party dominance in Japan but it means even more than that. Viewed in combination with the results of the previous election in 2005, the 2009 outcomes demonstrate that there has been a significant shift in the TYPE of electoral politics we see in Japan. Japan has moved from a system dominated by locally-based, individual candidacies toward a two-party system in which electoral success or failure is due as much to a candidate’s party as his own personal characteristics.

The End of LDP Dominance and the Rise of Party-Oriented Politics in Japan
Michael F. Thies, University of California, Los Angeles, USA

The LDP’s loss of power was the most obvious major outcome of the August 30, 2009 election. This result constitutes the end of single-party dominance in Japan but it means even more than that. Viewed in combination with the results of the previous election in 2005, the 2009 outcomes demonstrate that there has been a significant shift in the TYPE of electoral politics we see in Japan. Japan has moved from a system dominated by locally-based, individual candidacies toward a two-party system in which electoral success or failure is due as much to a candidate’s party as his own personal characteristics.

The Politics of Fiscal Reconstruction in Japan
Gene Park, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom

In 1999, Japan surpassed Italy to become the most indebted nation in the OECD. Since 1991, there has been an annual budget deficit in every fiscal year, and the nation now faces gross public debt that is 200% of its GDP. Why have Japan’s budget deficits been so persistent, and why has the government not been able to get its fiscal house in order? This paper seeks to explain why some nations such as Japan have not been able to maintain fiscal discipline while others have. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that Japan’s public debt problem is one of the paramount political challenges facing the country, one that threatens Japan’s future economic prosperity and the very fabric of Japan’s society. Financing Japan’s public debt crowds out private sector activities, consumes a growing share of Japan’s limited budgetary resources, and leaves a massive fiscal burden for future generations to bear. To make matters worse, as Japan’s population ages, social security expenditures will rise just as the base of workers paying taxes and social insurance declines. To date, the government has been helped by low interest rates and a relatively high savings rate, but these conditions will not persist. For these reasons, understanding the causes of Japan’s chronic fiscal balances now is more critical than ever.

Changing Interest Groups (Civil Society) and Party Relations after 2009 Election
Yutaka Tsujinaka, University of Tsukuba, Japan

Is the Diet election of 2009 really a watershed regarding State-Society relations in Japan? Our hypotheses and expected results suggest that the following points will likely be significant: (1) the results of the last three pressure group surveys (1980, 94, 03-4) suggest that the power balance had mainly shifted the relation between government and civil society. This was a sign for a significant change to come later in 2009. (2)From a comparative standpoint, the last policy network survey of 1997, conducted when the dominant LDP was still in power, reveals that the actors were quite limited in number. It is anticipated that actors will change and become more fluid under the new 2009 system. The expansion of network including the labor, NGOs, and professional sectors is expected. (3)Surveys on civil society organizations and local governments (2006-07) would confirm the extent to which these trends have penetrated to local (grassroots) levels throughout the country. This project allows us to predict future political scenarios and the level of stability. The author will empirically analyze the major symptoms after 2009 based on this hypothesis.

The Changing Liberal Democratic Party
Daniel M. Smith, Harvard University, USA

This paper will examine how the LDP’s organization and recruitment for vote- and policy-seeking changed over time and how that change influenced its fall from power in 2009 after an almost uninterrupted 54 years as Japan’s dominant governing party. It will also analyze how that defeat is and will continue to affect its future prospects.

The Changing Liberal Democratic Party
Ellis Krauss, University of California, San Diego, USA

This paper will examine how the LDP’s organization and recruitment for vote- and policy-seeking changed over time and how that change influenced its fall from power in 2009 after an almost uninterrupted 54 years as Japan’s dominant governing party. It will also analyze how that defeat is and will continue to affect its future prospects.