Political Parties, Electoral Reform
Diet members, Japanese politics, minority parties, political analysts, factionalism
Japanese politics have long been characterized by strong political factions. During the years of LDP dominance, many observers felt that political competition among the LDP factions was more significant than that among the different parties. Factions have been accused of creating negative effects such as raising the cost of elections, fostering influence-peddling, and promoting individual politicians rather than beneficial public policies.
Many political analysts believed that Japanís pre-1994 electoral system contributed to the strength of factions. From 1925 to 1994 voters elected Diet members from medium-sized, multimember districts (geographical areas that have more than one representative). Most parties put forward candidates for more than one of the available seats, but each voter could vote for only one candidate. Under this system it was possible for a single popular candidate to win such a large percentage of the vote that the partyís remaining candidates might lose to minority party candidates. In this case, the number of seats the party controlled in the Diet would not reflect its popular support within the district. Parties were thus forced to organize intensively at the local level during elections in order to encourage voters to distribute their votes evenly among the partyís candidates. Furthermore, in order to win votes, candidates had to distinguish themselves from their partyís other candidates, often by developing a personal following, or faction. Although the system was thought to ensure greater representation for minority parties, the cost of local organization and factionalism was great.
In 1994 the Diet adopted a number of electoral reforms. These included restrictions on the fundraising activities of individual politicians and the introduction of a mixed system of single-member electoral districts and proportional representation. The reforms give the party power, at the expense of factions, over political candidates. The effect of the reforms on factions nevertheless remains uncertain. The turmoil of party politics since the early 1990s largely reflects the instability of factions, rather than that of parties or politicians. Many of the newly created conservative parties were factions within the LDP before 1993. Since then they have been reconstituted as separate political parties. These parties continuously change and realign themselves, but they are dominated by a relatively constant group of leaders.
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