In Japan, Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), has been in power for a long time. Figure 1 shows that LDP has kept the most number of seats in Lower House except for the election in 2009. It is wondering because Japan is a Liberal Democratic country and has an established election system. To figure out why this is happening, I will view the situation of Japanese politics, make my hypothesis and discuss it. At last, I will make my conclusion on this issue.
Currently, independent voters (independents) are important in Japanese politics. Independents are voters who do not support specific party. According to Tanaka (2012), independents can be divided into three groups: those who are not interested in politics at all, those who do not stick with one party and think which to vote in each election, and those who stop supporting the party they used to support (Tanaka, 2012). Figure 2 shows the partisanship of each party. Even though LDP keeps its power in the diet, it rather loses its partisanship. In contrast, the rate of independents is increasing.
The rate of independents changes contrary to the partisanship of LDP or DPJ. Tanaka (2012) says that except for the voters who are not interested in politics at all, the number of independent voters relates with the trust in the government. For example, when Koizumi got his popularity in the election in 2005 by privatization of postal service, the partisanship of LDP rose and independents decreased. Yet, when Hatoyama had governance failure and Kan did not do appropriate management of Tohoku earthquake, the rate of independents rose (Tanaka, 2012). Therefore, in the current situation, although LDP loses its partisanship, it collects votes from independents when the government gets popularity among them.
I think that LDP has been in power for a long time because there are voters who support LDP to get reward from it. First, the rise of popularity among independents has a limit to explain LDP’s power because it only explains the relevance of the popularity of the government and the rate of independents. When Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) runs the government, the change of the rate of independents may have a relation with the partisanship of DPJ, but not with that of LDP.
Second, the patron-client relationship plays a role in a party because factions have strong power in Japanese political parties. Factions are the informal groups within the formal organization such as corporation, hospital and political party. The patron provides benefits of the client and a client are loyal to the patron. The clients will support LDP in return of support from it.
Therefore, I consider that LDP keeps its power because there is strong patron-client relationship and get votes from their client.
According to Scheiner (2006), “the combination of clientelism and financial centralization made it hard for the opposition to gain subnational office, and therefore hampered its ability to build a local base and find strong candidates for national office” (p.63).
First, Scheiner (2006) states that LDP has larger financial resource such as pork barrel to attract supporters than other parties (Scheiner, 2006, p.62). LDP use the resources to give benefit to specific groups and get vote from them. For example, according to Pempel (2010), LDP gets vote from rural farmers in return of the protection of domestic agriculture. Another example is that LDP spends pork on public construction projects such as highways and bridges and gets vote from construction group (as cited in Ping, 2015).
Second, Scheiner (2006) argues that local politicians have an “incentive to affiliate with LDP” because it “controls the national government and has discretion in deciding which localities get subsidies beyond their basic needs” (p109). While LDP has power in diet, local politicians try to make links with LDP to get funds from the government. LDP can get support from the local politician as long as it runs the government. This incentive helps the party to stay in the top of the diet.
Therefore, the clientelism is the reason for the power of LDP. However, we should consider what contributed to the formation of clientelism. Scheiner (2006) states that “SVTV/MMD certainly played an important role in reinforcing clientelist linkages” (p64). In lower house, single non-transferable vote with multi-member district election system (SNTV/MMD system) was used until 1993. It is the system to vote for 3 to 5 candidates. Under this system, candidates from same parties had to compete, so they made personal appeals to voters to make difference from the other candidates. As a result, candidates put importance on clientelism (Scheiner, 2006, p67). Even after the system has changed to single-member district with proportional representation election system (SMD with PR system) in 1994, the clientelism continued (Scheiner, 2006, p80).
In recent Japanese politics, independents have certain effects on the result of the election, but it does not explain the reason LDP keep its power. The power of LDP can be explained by its financial power and clientelism. It has strong influence on local politicians and certain groups of voters. LDP uses its financial resources to attract certain groups and get votes from them. And it uses its power to determine funds on local government to make connection with local politicians. In addition, this clientelism was the result of the SNTV/MMD system and this tendency continued even after the system has changed.