The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP
) of Japan
currently holds the world record
for continuous, undisputed control over a democracy
's government: they were the dominant party in the Diet
for thirty-eight years, from 1955
, and the opposition coalition
that succeeded them only lasted for eleven months. The party's full name in Japanese
is 自由民主党 Jiyû Minshu Tô
, but the abbreviated Jimintô
name is more common in the media
and party publications.
The LDP's Lineage
WARNING: Following the history of Japanese politics can produce severe mental strain. You are now entering the twilight zone ... proceed at your own risk.
The roots of the LDP can be traced back to Japan's Liberal Party
, formed shortly after Japan's surrender in 1945
. It absorbed the Democratic Club
, and by 1950
was one of only two pro-American political parties in Japan, the other being the Democratic Party
. During that year, the Liberal Party poach
ed away many members of the Democratic Party, and placed its votes firmly behind the incumbent prime minister
, Yoshida Shigeru
Around 1952, the major leftist parties (namely, the Communists and the Socialist Party) began to seriously oppose the concessions that Japan was giving to the United States Armed Forces. Part of the Liberal Party left and started their own party, the Japan Liberal Party, under the leadership of Hatoyama Ichiro. The Democratic Party, which was now known as the Reform Party, joined the JLP in 1954 to form a coalition called—just to add to the confusion—the Democratic Party.
Yoshida's cabinet resigned shortly afterwards, and Hatoyama's Democratic Party rose to power. In the 1955 general election, the Democrats held 40% of the Diet, the Liberals held 24%, and the two Socialist factions held 19% and 14%.
Seeing that a strong coalition would be necessary to keep leftists from taking over the government, Hatoyama met with Liberal Party president Ogata Taketora in June, and by September both parties had created committees to work out the fine points of their unification. On November 15, one month after the unification of the two Socialist factions, the Liberal Democratic Party was born on the campus of Chuo University in Tokyo.
The LDP Runs, Trips, Keeps Running
Hatoyama Ichiro was elected the first president of the LDP in 1956, and in that year's general election, one of the only bipartisan elections in Japanese history, the LDP gained 69 seats over the Socialist Party. Under Hatoyama, the LDP adopted three basic precepts that continue to define much of its policy today:
- Working from democratic principles, our party is committed to reforming the nation's institutions so as to create a cultured, democratic society.
- Based upon just, universally-recognized principles of peace and freedom, our party will work to secure the nation's sovereignty through adjustments and corrections to Japan's international relations.
- With the public's welfare as our chief imperative, our party will formulate and implement comprehensive economic policies designed to foster individual creativity and corporate freedom in order that people's livelihoods can be secured and the construction of a welfare state can be successfully completed.
The LDP's basic policy, behind all of these precepts given to the public, was to rebuild the Japanese economy. They believed that the best way to do so was to defer to the United States for national defense, and to concentrate the Japanese GDP on subsidizing the expansion of Japanese mega-corporations that had been severely weakened by World War II. This was the underlying principle that drove the Japanese government up until the fall of the bubble economy some four decades later, and to an extent it is a cornerstone of Japanese policymaking even today.
Ishibashi Tanzan took over from Hatoyama after the founder's retirement in 1956. Ishibashi ruled for 65 days before falling ill and resigning: he was followed by Kishi Nobusuke in 1957, who resigned in 1960 and was followed by Ikeda Hayato. Ikeda fell ill in 1964 and resigned one day after the end of the Tokyo Olympics, to be followed by Sato Eisaku.
Sato retired in 1972 and was followed by Tanaka Kakuei, who ended up nearly destroying the LDP. Tanaka, whose biography is noded elsewhere but who can be easily described as the Tricky Dick of Japan, caused enough scandal during his two years in office to make the life of his 1974 successor, "clean government" proponent Miki Takeo, very difficult. The overhanging shadow of Tanaka's corruption, coupled with rapid inflation in Japan and other countries, caused support for the LDP to wane, and several members left the party in 1976 to form a party called the New Liberal Club. That year, the Liberal Democrats won the slimmest of majorities in the Diet, and Miki resigned his post.
During the 1970's, the LDP had been split between a Tanaka-led faction, of which Miki was a member, and a second faction led by finance minister Fukuda Takeo. Fukuda succeeded Miki's failed administration in 1976, and through a variety of public spending initiatives began to push the Japanese economy into some of its highest growth rates in history. He also threw out the LDP's age-old opposition to strengthening Japan's role in the foreign arena, and launched a number of initiatives to bring the other countries of Asia back into amicable relations with Tokyo. By Fukuda's resignation in 1978, the LDP was at its highest popularity levels since its inception.
Ohira Masayoshi took over Fukuda's faction, and rode Fukuda's popularity for the first year or so of his term. In 1980, however, the Socialist Party called for a vote of no confidence in Ohira: many believe that they were angry at Ohira for joining the American boycott of the Moscow Olympics. Ohira called the Socialists' bluff and held an election for both houses of the Diet. Just before the election, Ohira suddenly died, but the LDP won several more seats and installed Suzuki Zenko as the new prime minister.
Suzuki's reign lasted for just over two years, but he was forced to resign in 1982 when it became clear that the Japanese economy was once again in a slump. His successor was Nakasone Yasuhiro, who had led his own small faction within the LDP as far back as Tanaka's administration, and had gained increasing support during the tenures of Ohira and Suzuki. Nakasone was among the most conservative of the LDP's leaders, twisting the party line to advocate privatization of large parastatals such as JR and NTT, and advocating the expansion of the Japan Self Defense Forces. Nakasone maintained high popularity up to his resignation in 1987, and his faction was succeeded by Takeshita Noboru.
...Then The Bubble Breaks
Takeshita's administration was looking just peachy until Nakasone's Recruit Scandal was broken to the press in 1988. The proceedings related to the scandal dragged on over the next year, right through the death of Emperor Hirohito, and severely damaged the public's esteem in the government. Takeshita resigned in 1989 to save face, and was succeeded by foreign minister Uno Sosuke, who ruled for 69 days while the LDP sorted out who would become the next prime minister.
The three main candidates, Hayashi Yoshiro, Ishihara Shintaro, and Kaifu Toshiki, fought long and hard, but Kaifu ultimately prevailed in the House of Representatives' election. The House of Councillors, however, elected Doi Takako of the Socialist Party, demonstrating that the rule of the LDP was beginning to fall apart. Kaifu prevailed over Doi, and was elected prime minister.
The fall of the Soviet Union managed to make the LDP look better than the Socialists, and they picked up several seats in 1990. However, Kaifu, who had pledged to institute widespread government reform, didn't get much done, and his role in supporting the first Gulf War didn't earn him too many brownie points among Japan's pacifists. He resigned in 1991 and was succeeded by Miyazawa Kiichi.
Miyazawa's administration seemed to be bringing back the public's faith in the LDP, but then the Nikkei began to bottom out, and the New Japan Party, led by Hosokawa Morihiro, began pulling dietmen out of the LDP one by one. In 1993, the seven opposition parties in the Diet had enough manpower to pass a motion of no confidence against Miyazawa, and before you could say "Poof!" Hosokawa had become the prime minister of Japan, ending the LDP's record-setting reign of power.
The LDP Walks It Off
Miyazawa, in case you haven't guessed already, did not last long as president of the LDP. He was kicked out, and Kono Yohei became the first LDP president in the opposition, with Mori Yoshiro as his second-in-command.
The coalition government had a honeymoon period of high popularity, but its main asset (namely, not being the LDP) turned out to be a curse. Because the coalition had no centralized control, it was difficult for the Diet to maintain its balance of power with the bureaucracy: the appointed kanryo administrators had always been as powerful as the elected legislators, and the new government couldn't keep them in line as easily as the LDP had.
At any rate, the coalition was unable to accomplish its primary goal of reviving the Asian economic model, and was really unable to accomplish anything without the support of the LDP. After the next failed administration, that of Hata Tsutomu, the next coalition prime minister, Murayama Tomiichi, was supported by the LDP and allowed the LDP a stronger voice in the legislative process, which made the LDP look better in the public eye and led to their big return to power in 1996, when Murayama finally gave up and resigned.
The new LDP president, Hashimoto Ryutaro, was elected by a coalition of the LDP, Social Democratic Party, and New Party Sakigake. His two year term was highly successful in stopping the further degradation of the Japanese economy, and by 1998 the LDP was once again the lord of the Japanese government.
That year, Hashimoto resigned, and the kantei was contested by three new faction leaders: Obuchi Keizo, Kajiyama Seiroku, and Koizumi Junichiro. Obuchi, who was already fairly popular in Japan, won by a wide margin, and was doing fairly well as prime minister until he had a stroke in 2000, leaving the government in the hands of his second-in-command, Mori.
Mori proceeded to screw everything up, and by the time the LDP got around to voting him out in 2001, his approval ratings hovered around ten percent. Koizumi, whose faction preached for fiscal reform, became the next premier, and was immediately pulling in eighty percent approval ratings. He is still prime minister, although nobody can tell how long his spell will last.
To tell the truth, nobody can tell how long the LDP's spell will last, but for now, they appear to be the only party even remotely capable of lassoing the Japanese government into action.
The LDP Today
The LDP is currently allied with the New Conservative Party, with which it controls a slight majority of the Lower House and a tenuous 49% of the Upper House. There is no such thing as a primary election in Japan, so all of the LDP's officers and candidates are chosen in a "smoke filled room" and presented as a single slate to the public.
Koizumi is the president of the LDP. He is the be-all and end-all of the LDP. The LDP relies largely on his continuing popularity and sexy hair to keep itself alive.
Yamasaki Taku is Secretary General, responsible for the LDP's grassroots and fundraising activities. His position tends to lead to the premier's residence, so keep an eye out for his name in coming years.