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The Rise of Political Opposition in Japan


Japan, a parliamentary democracy, has been dominated by a single party governing by itself or in coalition with others for nearly all of the last half century. But falling popularity of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), an economy in decline, and growing public dissatisfaction with politics, pose a historic opportunity for the opposition in the August 2009 parliamentary election. The main opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), gained a majority in the upper house of the Diet (parliament) in 2007 and since has emerged as a viable alternative to the LDP. This political change inTokyo could have repercussions for the U.S.-Japan alliance, especially on matters of security. Washington has often stressed that Japan -- a major military, economic, and political ally -- is a cornerstone in U.S. foreign policy in the region. Analysts say, irrespective of who wins, Washington will have to change the way it deals with Japan since the views of the Japanese opposition will now need to be taken into account.

Single-Party Dominance- The "1955 System"

Post-World War II Japan experienced a decade of contentious politics. In 1955, amid a society and polity marked by ideological divisions, the conservative liberal and democratic parties united to form the Liberal Democratic Party. This was the emergence of decades-long, single-party dominance and what many Japan specialists call the "1955 system." Gerald L. Curtis, a Columbia University professor in the 1999 book The Logic of Japanese Politics notes that there were four pillars of policymaking supporting the 1955 system. Besides one-party dominance, hesays the other pillars werepublic consensus in support of policies to achieve a catch-up-with-the-West goal, large interest groups with links to the political parties, and a bureaucracy of immense prestige and power.

The LDP was initially supported by farmers,...

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