Liberal Democratic party
Leader: Shinzo Abe
Seats won in 2012: 294
Seats won in 2009: 119
A union of centrist and rightwing parties created with US support after the second world war, the Liberal Democrats governed Japan almost uninterruptedly from 1955 to 2009, before returning to power in a landslide victory in 2012. The LDP formed one corner of the so-called “Iron Triangle” of conservative politicians, bureaucrats and business leaders that oversaw Japan’s postwar economic recovery, 1980s stock-and-land bubble and nearly two decades of subsequent malaise. Although a strong supporter of Japan’s security alliance with the US, its economics are more European conservative than US, with proponents of a strong state role outnumbering free-marketeers.
Leader: Yoshihiko Noda (who announced his intention to resign on Dec 16)
Seats won in 2012: 57
Seats won in 2009: 308
A sometimes ungainly coalition of socialists and disgruntled Liberal Democrats, the DPJ peeled supporters from the long-ruling LDP as Japan’s post-bubble economic troubles mounted. In 2009, it became the first opposition party to beat the Liberal Democrats in an election for parliament’s government-forming lower house. It promised to cut waste and shift spending priorities “from concrete to people” – meaning fewer dams and highways and more money for social services such as childcare. But its tenure was turbulent, with three different prime ministers, obstruction by an LDP-controlled upper house and a festering scandal involving its powerful – and now departed – co-founder Ichiro Ozawa.
Japan Restoration party
Leader: Shintaro Ishihara
Politics: Populist right
Seats won in 2012: 54
An upstart party founded by an outspoken lawyer and television personality turned mayor of Osaka, Toru Hashimoto, Restoration has attracted younger voters with an anti-establishment take on conservatism. It favours smaller government, a more open economy and unapologetic patriotism. It lost some of its sparkle after backtracking on two of Mr Hashimoto’s signature issues, opposition to nuclear power and support for free trade. The party is formally led by Shintaro Ishihara, the 70-year-old former governor of Tokyo and longtime gadfly of Japan’s political right. Many wonder whether its two charismatic bosses will be able to share the driver’s seat for long.
Leader: Natsuo Yamaguchi
Politics: Conservative, with a religious tinge
Seats won in 2012: 31
Seats won in 2009: 21
The political offshoot of a Japanese Buddhist organisation, Komeito has allied itself with the LDP since 1999, serving as a junior coalition partner in Liberal Democratic governments. Its parent group, Soka Gakkai, claims 8m Japanese households are enrolled as members, and is perhaps the best-organised force in Japanese politics. Members work the phones on behalf of Komeito candidates at every election – in a mostly secular country where religious beliefs are rarely discussed, it is often the first time people realise their friends belong to the group.
Leader: Yoshimi Watanabe
Politics: Free-market conservative
Seats won in 2012: 18
Seats won in 2009: 5
The quirkily named party – whose name in Japanese, Minna no To, actually means “everyone’s party” – favours small government, free trade, deregulation and low taxes. Its business-friendly agenda would be familiar in the US and UK but is considered radically free-market in Japan. It even wants to dismantle Japanese farm protections and establish a futures market in rice, policies akin to sacrilege for many but appealing to its audience of mostly young, wealthy urbanites.
Japanese Communist party
Leader: Kazuo Shii
Seats won in 2012: 8
Seats won in 2009: 9
A great survivor of Japanese politics, the Communist party endured the fascistic war years, an unsympathetic US occupation, a capital-driven economic “miracle” and the collapse of the Soviet Union. It has rarely polled above 10 per cent, and its parliamentary presence peaked in the 1970s – in the most recent Diet, it held nine seats out of 480. Still, in a country used to political scandal the Communists are seen as clean, and command a certain moral force even among non-members. They oppose nuclear power and the US security alliance and defend Japan’s pacifist constitution.
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