First published in Asian Survey, Vol. XIV, No. 10, October 1974, University of California Press
THE DOMINANT FEATURE of Japanese party polities over the past decade is the continued success of the conservatively oriented Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in maintaining itself in power despite challenges from the opposition parties. In the mid-1950s, the formation of a government in which the Japan Socialist Party (JSP) was a major participant seemed a real prospect. Three main factors, however, conspired to prevent this happening. The first, and most important, was the extremely rapid economic growth which extended from the 1950s to the early 1970s. The bulk of the population received unprecedented increases in its standard of living over this period, and this undoubtedly blunted the appeal of alternative forms of government.
The second was the success of the LDP in retaining and developing its cohesion as a political machine. The Party was beset by formidable problems of internal factionalism, and yet was able to overcome these to the point of containing its own divisions within a loose yet reasonably firm organizational structure. The third factor was the contrasting inability of the opposition to remain intact. Whereas in the late 1950s the JSP was the only opposition party of significance, by the early 1970s it was merely primus inter pares, having to share the anti-LDP vote with three other parties. Of these the Kōmei Party (KP) and especially the Japan Communist Party (JCP) presented a formidable challenge to its traditional base of support, while a small proportion of its potential supporters vote for the Democratic Socialist Party (DSP).
For the LDP, however, success brought its own problems. Economic growth had a healthy effect on standards of living, but was accompanied by urban overcrowding, fantastic land prices, and such phenomena as photochemical smog and mercury-contaminated fish. Environmentalism became popular and the Government found itself under pressure to place curbs on hitherto largely uncontrolled industrial expansion, especially in polluted urban areas. In national eleetions the LDP percentage of the vote was steadily if slowly declining, and now fell below 50%, 1 although the imbalance in the value of a