The Japanese elections of 2007 and 2009 brought
about the most significant political change in postwar Japan since the
formation of the Liberal Democratic Party in 1955. The elections saw a collapse of the LDP that
had ruled Japan for almost the entirety of the postwar period, and the
opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) gained control of both houses of
parliament (Diet). The elections appeared to mark the consolidation of a new
era of genuine competitive electoral politics in Japan, potentially leading to
a stable two-party system. The DPJ came into power in the fall of 2009
promising to revolutionize Japanese policy making and diminish the authority of
the government bureaucracy in favor of a greater role for elected politicians
and a cabinet-led system of governance.
A year later, the winds of change seem to have
lost much of their momentum. The DPJ's string of electoral victories came to a
quick end in the Upper House vote of 2010. Prior to the election, Prime
Minister Hatoyama was forced to step down in favor of Naoto Kan after the
government proved ineffectual in forging clear and cohesive policies in both
domestic and foreign arenas. The LDP, along with new conservative groupings,
has stepped back from the brink of self-destruction.
The future of politics in Japan is now highly
uncertain with numerous possible outcomes. When it comes to political change in
Japan, are recent events a case of one step forward, one step back? Alternatively, is the 2010 election simply be
a temporary setback in what will become either a period of DPJ dominance or a
period of genuine party competition? Or, are we still in a period of flux, in
which further realignment and possibly even grand coalition making between the
LDP and DPJ may continue to shake up the system?
Moreover, even if the events of 2007 and 2009
really did usher in a new party system, what sorts of changes are we looking
at? Will the system be focused on genuine two-party competition, or will small
parties help decide future governments?
And what do these changes really mean in terms of government
policy-making in Japan?
This conference follows in the footsteps of our
successful conference on political change in Japan in 2007 at Stanford that
produced an edited volume - Political
Change in Japan. We again hope to bring together both junior and senior
academic specialists on Japanese politics and policymaking to take stock of the
state of political change after genuine party alternation has occurred. The
conference will examine the impact of change on parties and politics and on key
areas of governance.