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Highest Organ of State Power

Highest Organ of State Power

Highest Organ of State Power


Originally, members of each house were elected by universal suffrage from multimember districts (each having three to five seats, depending on population) in which voters made only one selection. This system endured until 1994, when calls for election reforms led to the redrawing of district boundaries and a major change in the electoral process for the lower house: there are now 300 single-seat constituencies, while the remaining 180 seats are decided by proportional representation.

The constitution explicitly states that popular sovereignty is to be expressed through the Diet, the only institution of the government empowered to make laws. Whereas in the past the prime minister and cabinet were responsible to the emperor, they are now responsible to the Diet, the “highest organ of state power.” Japan’s Supreme Court is empowered to declare laws unconstitutional (which it rarely does), and justices are to be approved by the voters every ten years after their appointment, a process that has become virtually automatic.

As we will see, however, the Japanese have adapted Western institutions to fit Japan’s own rich and resilient cultural traditions. The result is a unique system that combines democratic politics and market economics—the new—with political hierarchy, economic centralization, and social discipline—the old.

The Party System

With one brief exception in 1993-1994, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) dominated Japanese politics from 1955 to 2009. Among the smaller parties, the Socialists and Communists occasionally garnered significant numbers of votes, but their legislative role was to provide parliamentary opposition. For four decades, the actual governing of the country fell almost exclusively to the LDP.

When a single party retains a majority of seats in a freely elected legislative assembly over an extended time, it usually means the party has satisfied a broad range of social interests. In Japan, the LDP succeeded because it embraced pragmatism over ideological purity, enjoyed the backing of powerful special interests, and benefited from the sheer force of political inertia. According to two authorities,