Nov. 9 marked the 10th anniversary of the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, which led to the end of the Cold War. The international situation, liberated from ideological confrontations, has changed a great deal since then.
For Japan, 1989 also marked a historic turning point, starting with the death of Emperor Showa immediately after the New Year holidays. After Japan entered the Heisei Era, the Recruit bribery scandal came to a head, forcing the Liberal Democratic Cabinet of Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita to resign en masse and throwing Japanese politics into turmoil.
In the past 10 years, Japan has been ruled by nine prime ministers. The Liberal Democratic Party’s single-party rule, under the Cabinets of Takeshita, Sosuke Uno, Toshiki Kaifu and Kiichi Miyazawa, ended in 1993, when the LDP lost a general election. Japan then entered an era of coalition governments. The non-LDP coalition governments of Morihiro Hosokawa and Tsutomu Hata were followed by the LDP-dominated coalition Cabinets of Tomiichi Murayama and Ryutaro Hashimoto.
The administrations of Hashimoto and his successor, Keizo Obuchi, in 1997 and 1998 were made up of LDP lawmakers only. This fall, Obuchi inaugurated a new coalition government, combining the LDP, the Liberal Party and New Komeito.
The age of coalition governments, which is likely to continue for several more years, is closely related to the end of the Cold War.
In the 40 years since the end of World War II, Japanese politics was based on a system of two major parties — or more accurately, that of one and a half major parties. The pro-American, capitalist LDP was supported by two-thirds of the voters, while the anti-American Japan Socialist Party was backed by one-third. The end of the Cold War led to a collapse of the LDP-dominated Japanese political structure, ushering in an age of a multiparty system and coalition governments.
Japan currently has six major political parties. While the ruling coalition consists of the LDP, the LP and New Komeito, the opposition camp is made up of the Democratic Party of Japan, the Japan Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party (the former Japan Socialist Party). The JCP sticks to its traditional ideology, but the five other parties have no clearly defined ideologies. It is interesting to see how the existing Japanese political structure will change in an impending general election following a Lower House dissolution.
I would predict that no single party will win a majority in the 500-seat Lower House. Another coalition government is likely to be established after the election, but it is uncertain which parties will join the coalition. What is certain is that the LDP and the DPJ, the top opposition party, will battle for power. The existing LDP-LP-New Komeito coalition may or may not remain in power. The possibility of an LDP-LP merger cannot be ruled out, following LP moves to join forces with the LDP.
Even a grand LDP-DPJ coalition cannot be ruled out, depending on the election results. Ideologies have little influence in contemporary Japanese politics, and it is difficult to predict the future of political alliances.
The critical question is when the general election will be held. There is now little possibility of a Lower House dissolution before the current extraordinary Diet session ends Dec. 15, since the government will be busy compiling a fiscal 2000 budget in the interim. The next opportunity for a Lower House dissolution will come when an ordinary Diet session opens in late January. A dissolution is unlikely in February or March, when the Diet will be extremely busy debating the budget bill.
Unless the Lower House is dissolved in January for a general election in February, the next opportunity will come in April or May, after the Diet enacts the budget, or after July, when Japan hosts a Group of Eight summit in Okinawa. The election must be held in 2000, before all the Lower House members complete their term next October. The end-of-the century election will conclude a turbulent decade in Japanese politics.
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