First published in Anne Holzhausen (ed.), Studies on Japan's Changing Political Economy and the Process of Globalization in Honour of Sung-Jo Park, Heidelberg and New York: Physica Verlag, 2001
A LEADING British newspaper recently commented on the Mexican presidential elections that ended the dominance of the PRI-a political party that had ruled Mexico continuously since the era of silent films:
Corruption feeds on political monopoly, but then eats away at governments' legitimacy, (…). Corruption led in 1993 to a momentary defeat of Japan's Liberal Democratic Party; it was a factor in the downfall of India's Congress Party in 1996; and it is a source of something close to outrage in China. (…)The one-party state was one of the salient features of the 20th century; the 21st should, with luck, see its disappearance. (Financial Times, 4th July 2000)
Perhaps the greatest puzzle about the politics of Japan is continuity of rule by a single political party over four and a half decades, in a political system where free elections are institutionalized. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)-a party of broadly conservative persuasion-was founded in November 1955, and has formed every national government since then, except for the period between August 1993 and June 1994, when it was out of office. This is not as long as the PRI in Mexico, but still, an exceptionally long period. It ruled on its own, as a single-party administration, for all of the period between 1955 and 1993, except that, between 1983 and 1986, it was in coalition with a tiny splinter group called the New Liberal Club. The NLC had defected from the LDP in 1976 following the Lockheed aircraft purchase scandal, and in 1986 returned to the LDP fold. In any case, the LDP/NLC coalition was not strictly speaking necessary for the LDP to preserve its grip on government.
Other indicators of its phenomenal success are that the LDP held an absolute majority in the House of Representatives between 1955 and July 1993, and again between September 1997 and June 2000. Even in those periods where it lacked a Lower House majority, it was overwhelmingly the largest party in terms of its representation in the House of Representatives.