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    Major Political Parties in Japan

    | Liberal Democratic Party | Democratic Party | Social Democratic Party | Liberal Party | Communist Party | Heiwa Kaikaku | Komei | Sakigake |

    (Updated July 1998)
    Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)
    Japan's dominant political party for more than 40 years. Despite its name, the party's base has long been conservative, ranging from pro-Imperial rightists to big business groups. From 1955 to 1993, the LDP dominated Japanese politics using a mix of pork-barrel politics and status quo policies that protected business interests. However, as the country's economic problems became more intractable, voters became disillusioned with the LDP and in 1993, the party failed to achieve a majority in parliament. A multi-party coalition led by Morihiro Hosokawa (of the now-defunct Japan New Party) assumed control.

    The LDP returned to power in June 1994 in an unprecedented coalition with the left-of-center Japan Socialist Party. In January 1996, the LDP reclaimed the prime minister's chair as Ryutaro Hashimoto replaced his JSP coalition partner, Tomiichi Murayama. Unable to stimulate the economy, Hashimoto resigned after his party's showing in the upper house elections of July 1998. After the elections, the LDP controlled 101 seats in the upper house and 263 in the lower house.

    Democratic Party
    Founded in 1996 from members of the Social Democratic Party and Shin-to Sakigake. In 1997, after the dissolution of the New Frontier Party (Shinshin-to), the Democratic Party became the largest opposition group in the Diet, Japan's bicameral legislature. In April 1998, the party picked up more members merging with three other smaller parties. Led by the charismatic Naoto Kan, the Democrats were the biggest winners in the July 1998 upper house elections, picking up nine seats for a total of 27. Kan, perhaps the most popular politician in the country, led the fight to pull the plug on the LDP's Prime Minister Hashimoto. The party's views tend to be progressive and centrist, seeking more open markets, greater deregulation and greater tax cuts. The Democratic Party now controls 47 seats in the upper house and 92 seats in the lower house.

    Social Democratic Party (formerly the Socialist Party)
    Japan's main opposition party to the LDP for several decades. The Socialists took advantage of voter dissatisfaction with the Liberal Democrats in the early 1990s, forming part of the coalition government that took power from the LDP in 1993. As the coalition dissolved the next year, the Socialists entered into an unprecedented coalition with its longtime rival, the LDP, to stay in power. Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama's Socialist-led government lasted from 1994 until 1996, when the LDP reclaimed majority control in the coalition. Although it now generally supports the U.S.–Japan Security Treaty, the party in the past had opposed efforts to broaden Japan's military role. The SDP, which has traditionally relied heavily on unions for its support, has seen its popularity wane greatly in the past few years. The SDP now controls 13 seats in the upper house and 15 in the lower house.

    Liberal Party
    A splinter party founded after the breakup of the New Frontier Party (Shinshin-to) in December 1997. Led by the outspoken Ichiro Ozawa, the Liberal Party took over the Shinshin-to's basic philosophies and policies. Ozawa has long been a proponent of real reform, espousing the need for Japan to become a "normal nation" with less government regulation and more participation in international affairs. His 1993 book, "Blueprint for a New Japan" became a bestseller, and the subject of much debate in the country. The Liberal Party now controls 12 seats in the upper house and 40 seats in the lower house.

    Communist Party
    One of the oldest political parties in Japan, it was founded in 1922 as an underground group. Until recently the party had been somewhat marginalized in Japanese politics, taking unpopular stances on a number of issues – such as its opposition to the U.S.–Japan security alliance. The party, however, was one of the chief beneficiaries of the vote for the upper house in July 1998. Analysts say the reason was not so much because the Japanese favor a Communist style of government, but because the Communists represented the one party that seemed organized and thoughtful about its policies. The Communists now control 23 seats in the upper house and 26 in the lower house.

    Heiwa Kaikaku (literally "Peace Reform")
    A party formed out of the breakup of the New Frontier Party (Shinshin-to) in December 1997. Most members are former Komei-to (Clean Government Party) members, getting their support from the enigmatic, but huge religious group, Soka-Gakkai. Led by former Komei-to head Takenori Kanzaki, the party tends to be relatively centrist and generally independent of other political parties. Heiwa Kaikaku controls 47 seats in the lower house. Its sister party is Komei, whose members are in the upper house.

    The old Komei-to was formed in 1964 as the political arm of the Soka-Gakkai, a large religious organization affiliated with the Nichren Shoshu sect of Buddhism. In 1994, the party split into two groups: one faction that allied itself with Ichiro Ozawa's New Frontier Party (Shinshin-to); the other which formed Komei. Like its sister party in the lower house, Heiwa Kaikaku, Komei is relatively centrist and independent continuing to enjoy the support of Soka-Gakkai, whose members number some 15 million, or 7 million households. Komei controls 22 seats in the lower house.

    Sakigake (Harbinger)
    Formed in 1993 by 10 breakaway LDP lower house members. That year, Sakigake joined the coalition government led by Morihiro Hosokawa's New Party – one that that replaced the LDP in power. Led by Masayoshi Takemura, named chief cabinet secretary in the new government, Sakigake left the alliance in 1994 over disagreements with other coalition members. In June, Sakigake formed part of another, new coalition government with the LDP and the Socialists. Sakigake suffered a major blow in 1996 when the popular Minister of Health and Welfare Naoto Kan left the party in 1996 to start his own, the Democratic Party. Membership declined greatly. Sakigake now controls three seats in the upper house and two seats in the lower house. The party now focuses mainly on environmental and "quality of life" issues.

    – compiled by Tim Ito, staff

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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