by Axel Klein*
Japan is Asia's oldest and most stable democracy. In the early stages, given the restrictions on suffrage and parliamentary powers, elections could hardly fulfil their democratic function. Their contribution to the country's political development began after 1945. Several reforms have been introduced so far into the electoral systems of both parliamentary chambers, with the aim of enhancing the voters' choices and cutting down the influence of clientelistic networks in politics.
The national diet was constituted in 1889, yet universal suffrage and the current parliamentary system were not introduced until after World War II, under American occupation. In the course of these post-war reforms the military, bureaucracy and nobility were stripped off the wide powers they had enjoyed in the pre-war period, and the Emperor (Tennô) was given a merely formal role in the parliamentary and legislative processes.
The Constitution, promulgated in November 1946 and in force since May 1947, stipulates that the bicameral diet is to consist of the House of Representatives, with more political power and influence, and the House of Councilors, a directly elected chamber similar to the Senate of the United States of America. Bills need the approval of both houses to be passed, but a two-third majority of the House of Representatives can override a rejection of the House of Councilors. Decisions regarding the State budget, however, need only the approval of the House of Representatives.
During the first months after the war, many old political parties were re-established and new parties grounded. Thus, before December 1945 the Japan Socialist Party (JSP, Nihon Shakai Tô), the Japan Liberal Party (JLP, Nihon Jiyû Tô), the Japan Progressive Party (JPP, Nihon Shinpo