Political Change in Japan II: One Step Forward, One Step Back


Date and Time

February 4, 2011 8:30 AM - 2:00 PM


By Invitation Only.


Philippines Conference Room

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.

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