Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Japanese politics needs a two-party system
MURATA Koji / Professor of Political Science, Doshisha University

August 23, 2019
Japanese politics needs a two-party system. Japanese people want realistic political choices. Otherwise, voters will be more and more cynical about Japan’s democracy. Currently, while the ruling coalition with different political ideas is so dominant in the National Diet, opposition parties are fighting with each other, and their policy coordination is fragile. Under these circumstances, it is not likely for Japan to have a two-party system in the near future, but movement in that direction is possible.

First, Japan needs to amend its constitution to avoid political cynicism. For example, many of the opposition parties are still criticizing the new security law of 2015, under which Japan can exercise the right of collective self-defense in limited ways, as unconstitutional. To propose constitutional amendments, the ruling party needs at least a two-thirds majority in both houses of the National Diet. Though the current ruling coalition comprised of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Clean Government Party (Komeito), together with the Japan Restoration Party (Nippon Ishin no Kai), an opposition party supporting constitutional amendments, lost its two-thirds majority in the House of Councilors election on July 21, 2019, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo is still eager to pursue constitutional amendments in 2020. At least some conservative members of the National Democratic Party (Kokumin Minshuto) or other opposition parties might agree to discuss constitutional amendments in the future. Then, a two-party system may emerge based on public debate of the pros and cons of constitutional amendments and what kinds of amendments politicians are seeking.

Another scenario, while not highly likely, might also be considered. Prime Minister Abe is eager to revise the constitution, in particular, Article 9, which renounces war and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes. But Komeito is reluctant because the Value-Creation Society (Soka Gakkai), a peace-oriented Buddhist organization supporting Komeito, is opposed to constitutional revision. If Komeito were to leave the coalition government over the constitutional debate and join opposition parties, a two-party system could happen because many LDP members rely on Komeito’s election machine for their victories, and the LDP would consequently be weakened considerably. A more liberal successor to Mr. Abe may be better at handling opposition parties and Komeito when discussing constitutional amendments, which could further reduce the likelihood of this scenario, but the notion of political realignment over the constitution is not inconceivable.

Second, the LDP has been called a catch-all party for a long time. The party includes different political forces with different ideas and policies. So, the LDP has been able to operate a quasi-multi-party system by changing prime ministers among different political forces inside the party. Currently under Prime Minister Abe, political forces with conservative social values and a small government orientation are dominant in the party. However, Shigeru Ishiba, Abe’s rival, takes a quite different position from Mr. Abe’s on the revision of Article 9. And Shinjiro Koizumi, a very popular politician of a new generation, is often critical of Abe’s paternalistic political style. To some extent, leaders such as these still function as opposition parties within the LDP. If political forces with social conservative values and a small government orientation become stronger and stronger, other forces might find it difficult to stay in the LDP and consequently join opposition parties.

Third, the U.S.-Japan alliance has been a core of Japanese foreign policy for decades. The Japanese public understands the importance of this alliance, but some are frustrated by Japan’s junior position in the alliance. Furthermore, President Donald Trump’s provocative remarks often cause antipathy towards the United States in Japanese society. Thus, it is very easy for opposition parties to criticize the way the Japanese government manages the U.S.-Japan alliance. I would call this the anti-American position of convenience. Ironically, this tendency prevents opposition parties from developing a realistic foreign policy, which is essential for a two-party system. Therefore, opposition parties should demonstrate more constructive and realistic views on the U.S.-Japan alliance.

Finally, despite the appeal of a two-party system, it seems to exhibit many fundamental problems. For example, political parties in countries with a two-party system, such as the United States and United Kingdom, appear to have embraced populism and do not necessarily represent the full range of voices among the people. While I believe Japanese politics needs its own two-party system, Japan must learn from the American and British experiences and carefully consider the means toward that end.

Koji Murata is Professor of political science at Doshisha University. This article has been adapted from his contribution to Debating Japan, Volume 2, Issue 7, July 29, 2019.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

村田 晃嗣 / 同志社大学政治学教授

2019年 8月 23日






筆者は同志社大学政治学教授。本稿はDebating Japan, Volume 2, Issue 7, July 29, 2019に掲載された記事を一部修正したものである。
一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Japanese politics needs a two-party system