The Liberal-Democratic Party (LDP) represents a wide spectrum of Japanese society, but most especially the conservative elements. Formed in 1955 by the merger of the two leading conservative parties, this party held the reins of government since its formation until July 1993.
The Japan Socialist Party (JSP) is Japan's principal opposition party, drawing its support mainly from the working class, but it suffers from personality as well as ideological problems within its ranks. The JSP split into right and left wings over the ratification of the US-Japan Security Treaty of 1952. In October 1955, however, the two factions reunited, preceding the unification of the conservative parties and actually forcing the conservative groups into a unified front, thus creating a formal two-party system in Japan.
Beginning in the late 1960s, a shift took place toward a multiple-party system, with the gradual increase of opposition parties other than the JSP. The Democratic Socialist Party (DSP) represented moderate elements of the working class. The Komeito (Clean Government Party), professing middle-of-the-road politics, was the political wing of the Soka-Gakkai, a Buddhist sect. The Japanese Communist Party, founded as an underground group in 1922 and legalized after World War II, experienced major shifts in platform. The party had traditionally sided with China in the Sino-Soviet ideological dispute, although in recent years the Japanese Communists have focused instead on social conditions at home.
The LDP continued to hold its majority in both houses until 1993. Traditionally, the LDP has functioned as a coalition of several factions, each tightly organized and bound by personal loyalty to a factional leader. In the mid-1970s, policy differences among the factions and their leaders became acute, with the resignation under pressure of Prime Minister Tanaka in December 1974.
In the summer of 1993, after five years of scandals involving corruption, sex, organized crime, and in the midst of economic recession, the old political order disintegrated as dozens of younger LDP members defected to form new parties. Chief among these was the Japan New Party (JNP), formed in May 1992, and the Sakigake (Harbinger Party) and the Shinseito (Renewal Party), both formed in June 1993. A watershed election in July 1993 for the House of Representatives, the lower house of the parliament, resulted in the loss by the LDP, for the first time since 1955, of its majority. Of the 511 seats, the LDP won 223 seats (as compared with 275 in the 1990 election), the JSP won 70 seats (a loss of half of its previous seats), the Komeito won 51 seats, the Shinseito took 55 seats, the JNP 35 seats, and the Sakigake 13. A seven-party coalition, including new parties of LDP defectors, the JSP, and other conservative parties, formed the new cabinet, which governed for a year until the prime minister (Morihiro Hosokawa, JNP) resigned over a financial scandal. The coalition formed a new government, led by Tsutomu Hata of the Shinseito, in April 1993. However, the JSP, finding itself maneuvered out of any voice in the coalition, broke away and Hata, then with a minority in the House of Representatives, resigned after one month in office.
The next government was formed by a new, unorthodox coalition of the traditional opponents, the LDP and the JSP, as well as the Sakigake. Tomiichi Murayama, head of the JSP, was chosen prime minister in June 1994, the first Socialist to head a government since 1948, although the LDP appeared to be dominant in the coalition. This unusual partnership caused strains, leading to further defections, within the LDP and within the JSP. The Shinseito emerged as a serious focus of opposition, standing for an internationally more active Japan, including use of the military overseas, for a revision of the constitution, and for removing protective regulations to open the domestic economy to competition. The left wing of the JSP, unhappy with the alliance with the LDP, held that the Self-Defense Forces were unconstitutional, and that the North Korean government (DPRK) was the legitimate government of all of Korea, and advocated abolition of the security treaty with the United States.
The parliamentary election that took place on 20 October 1996 combined the 300 single seat constituencies with the proportional representation for the remaining 200 seats. After the dissolution of Shinshinto, a highly fractionalized party system emerged. Going into the 2000 election, the LDP had 266 seats, with the largest opponents being the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) with 94 seats, the Komeito with 52, the Liberal Party with 39, and the Communists with 23. The LDP worked closely with the Komei party and the Liberal Party, effectively making the DPJ the only significant opposition.
The 2000 House of Representatives election produced the following distribution of seats: LDP 233, DPJ 127, Komeito 31, Liberal Party 22, Japan Communist Party (JCP) 20, Social Democratic Party (SDP) 19, New Conservative Party (formed in 2000) 7, and 21 other seats. In the 2001 House of Councilors vote, the seats fell as follows: LDP 110, DPJ 59, Komeito 23, JCP 20, SDP 8, Liberal Party 8, New Conservative Party 5, and independents took 14 seats. The newest party in Japanese politics is the New Conservative Party, formed in March 2000 by members who split off from the Liberal Party. Since April 2001, the party has been part of the Koizumi coalition government. The next elections for both houses are to be held in 2004.