First published in Australian Outlook, Vol. 25, No. 2, Aug. 1971 (Australian Institute of International Affairs)
JAPAN IN THE postwar period has not belonged to that small handful of nations throughout the world where the roles of Government and Opposition are exchanged fairly regularly as a result of free electoral processes. Indeed, if alternating government is to be regarded as a criterion of democracy, the Japanese record is just slightly worse than that of Australia. While the Australian Labor Party last participated in office at the federal level in 1949, none of the four opposition parties now represented in the Lower House (the House of Representatives) of the Japanese Diet have been in power since 1948. In that year a shaky coalition government of both Socialists and Conservatives, led first by a Socialist and later by a Conservative Prime Minister, fell from office. Since then the Japanese Government has been firmly in the hands of politicians who, however much their personalities, policies and even ideologies may differ, have all carried a Conservative label. From 1955 they have succeeded in coexisting within one somewhat amorphous and quite broadly based political party, the Liberal Democratic Party, or LDP.
It must be admitted that the Japanese 'Left' has looked rather less credible as an alternative government since 1948 than has the ALP since 1949. Like the latter, it has been prone to ideological and personal factionalism (though not to any great extent regional factionalism), but its electoral performance has been much worse. Thus once the possibility of participation with Conservatives in coalition governments was foreclosed by a merging of Conservative groups, the prospect of power has seemed distant. Voting habits have been remarkably stable since the mid-fifties, as may be seen from Table 1.
Grouped roughly from right to left, the present Opposition parties are: The Democratic Socialist Party (DSP), with 31 seats in the Lower House; the Komeito (sometimes translated 'Clean Government Party'), with 47 seats; the Japan Socialist Party (JSP), with 91 seats; and the Japan Communist Party (JCP), with 14 seats. The DSP broke with the JSP in 1959-60, alleging pro-Communist tendencies in the latter. The Komeito is backed by the most successful of Japan's 'new religions', the Soka Gakkai, although in the past year