First published in Japan Forum, Vol. 1, No. 2, October 1989
ONE THING the Recruit scandals of 1988-9 have demonstrated rather graphically to the world is that Japanese politics appear to be inextricably linked with the politics of intra-party factions. Gifts of unlisted shares to politicians, who in due course were able to sell them at a huge profit when they came on the market officially, were particularly welcome because of the insatiable need of funds by faction leaders and their supporters. During the late 1980s four of the five major factions of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) have each accounted for a larger (or at least, similar) number of Diet members than any of the Opposition parties. Among them, these five factions have tightly controlled the power structure of the party, creating what amounts to a seniority system in the allocation of party and Cabinet posts, and dividing power among them in a remarkably predictable manner.
When, as a result of the Recruit scandal, the prime ministership of Takeshita Noboru had collapsed, and a successor was being sought, the most favoured candidate, Itō Masayoshi, made it a condition of his acceptance that he should be allowed to bring about such reform of the electoral system and other aspects of political interaction that the factional hegemony within the LDP would have been seriously threatened. Although his own reluctance to take on prime ministerial burdens on age and health grounds was also a significant factor, ultimately the radicalism of his proposed reforms proved more than the party's power brokers were prepared to stomach.
In the July Upper House elections the electorate delivered a severely adverse verdict on the LDP's 'money politics' revealed as a result of the baleful generosity of the Recruit Company, 1 and there is little doubt that the LDP has in 1989 suffered a substantial loss of popularity. 2 This must seem to many LDP leaders to be a cruel irony, because since that party's sweeping victory in the 1986 double elections, its intra-party factions have acted with a degree of co-operation and agreement about the sharing of spoils which is in marked contrast to the factional politics of the 1970s. Not only had the number of factions declined, but they had streamlined their operations and no longer