The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), also known as Jiyū Minshutō (自由民主党, more often abbreviated to Jimin-tō 自民党) is the largest Japanese political party as of 2004. It is not to be confused with the now-defunct Liberal Party (1998), which merged with the main opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan, in November 2003. The Liberal Democratic party is Japan's largest right-wing and conservative party. The liberal in its name refers to its support of a liberalized economy, the party is not the standard American definition of liberal
The LDP was formed in 1955 as a party merger between Japan's two oppositional parties, the Liberal Party and the Democratic Party , both right-wing conservative parties - as a united front against the then very popular Japan Socialist Party. The party immediately won the elections, and Japan's first conservative government with a majority was formed by 1955. It would hold the majority government until 1993.
The LDP began with reforming Japan's foreign affairs, ranging from entry into the United Nations to establishing diplomatic ties with the Soviet Union. Its leaders in the 1950s also made the LDP the main government party, and in all the elections of the 1950s, the LDP won the majority vote, with the only other opposition coming from the left-wing, made up of the Japan Socialist Party and the Japanese Communist Party.
From the 1950s through the 1970s, the American Central Intelligence Agency spent millions of dollars attempting to influence elections in Japan to favor the LDP against more leftist, less pro-American parties, such as the Socialists and the Communists, although this was not revealed until the mid-1990s when The New York Times exposed it. Therefore it is speculated that the party's long-term power was at least partly as a result of these Cold War operations to manipulate Japanese government.
For the majority of the 1960s, the LDP (and Japan) were led by Eisaku Sato, which began with the hosting of the Olympics in Japan in 1964, and ending in 1972 with Japanese neutrality in the Vietnam War and also with the beginning of the Miracle Economy . By the end of the 1970s, the LDP went into its decline, where, even though it held the reigns of government, many scandals plagued the party, where the opposition (now joined with the Clean Government Party (Former)) gained a tiny amount of momentum.
In the end of the 1970s, the Japan Socialist Party, the Japanese Communist Party, and the Clean Government Party, and also the international community all elected major pressure to have Japan switch diplomatic ties to the People's Republic of China from the Republic of China. During the 1980s, the LDP was responsible for Japan's unprecendeted economic growth, and the Bubble Economy. In the end of the decade, Japan also played a pivotal role in ending the Cold War.
But by 1993, the end of the miracle economy and other reasons (e.g. Recruit scandal) made the LDP lose that year's election, ending a 38-year reign over Japan. The winners, made up of opposition parties, formed a government under the liberal Japan Renewal Party. Other junior coalition partners were the existing opposition parties (the Clean Government Party, the Japanese Communist Party, and the Japan Socialist Party) as well as two party, the New Party Sakigake and the New Frontier Party. But the Socialists and the New Party Sakigake parties were neglected in the coalition. The Socialists and New Party Sakigake thus left the ruling coalition in 1994, joining the LDP in the opposition. The remaining coalition of liberal parties tried to form a minority government. This collapesed in 1994, when the Japan Socialist Party (JSP) formed majority a coalition with its former arch-rival the LDP. The LDP was thus returned to power, although it allowed a socialist to occupy the Prime Minister's chair.
By 1996, the LDP was returned to power as a majority party. The Japanese Communist Party, the Japan Socialist Party, which was renamed the Social Democratic Party (Japan), and the Clean Government Party, as well as other several minor parties (the New Frontier Party, Japan New Party and the Japan Renewal Party all dissolved) went into opposition, while the New Party Sakigake was part of the ruling coalition.
After 1996, when the LDP returned to power, the party was practically unopposed until 1998, when the opposition Democratic Party was formed. Since then the opposition has been gaining momentum, especially in the 2003 and 2004 Parliamentary Elections. But the LDP is still in power, and the largest party.
On November 10, 2003, the New Conservative Party (Hoshu Shintō) was absorbed into the LDP, a move which was largely because of the New Conservative Party's poor showing in the 2003 general election. The Conservatives won only four seats, and the party's leader failed to win re-election in his home constituency.
Today, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is from this party. He has sent troops to Iraq, and dissolved the Lower House. The LDP is in a coalition with the conservative Buddhist New Clean Government Party. So far, the LDP is still the largest party. New Party Sakigake (which had changed its name to Sakigake) was in the coalition until 2002, when the party dissolved itself and formed the Midori no Kaigi, an ecologist party, which has no seats in the Diet, which unofficially supported the government, but dissolved itself. Now, the LDP and New Komeito Party (New Clean Government Party) make up the ruling coalition.
The LDP gains most of its support from rural conservative farmers, and it is also the established party of the bureaucracy, and the famed keiretsu and white-collar workers. The LDP is also almost always ridden with scandals, usually when political bosses take money from white-collar bureaucrats.
In the dramatically paced 2003 House of Representatives elections, the LDP won 237 seats, while the DPJ won 177 seats. In the 2004 House of Councillors elections, in the seats up for grabs, the LDP won 49 seats and the DPJ 50, though in the end, the LDP still had a total of 114. Because of this electoral loss, former Secretary General Shinzo Abe turned in his resignation, but Party President Koizumi merely demoted him in rank, and he was replaced by Tsutomu Takebe .
The LDP's pictorial logo is two children under a sun.
On domestic policy the party is conservative. Though the party leader supports privatization of most industries, a large faction within the party supports state-ownership of key industries and opposes the neo-liberal economic policies of Prime Minister Koizumi. The party is the most right-wing and conservative party in Japan, and is still the most popular. Nevertheless, the party is held together more by patronage and pork-barrel spending than by ideology.
The LDP has been a very factionalized party for most of its history. There are currently five major factions in the LDP. From most to least powerful, they are:
- Heisei Kenkyukai (Hashimoto Faction ), led by former PM Ryutaro Hashimoto. The Hashimoto faction was preceded by the Takeshita Faction of Noboru Takeshita. It is now led by Mikio Aoki in the Upper House. It is the most bureaucratic and conservative faction. Ex-PM Hashimoto and the entire faction were recently hit with a scandal where the faction had apparently taken money from the Japan Dental Association . Hashimoto is expected to resign: possible replacements include Kosuke Hori , Tamisuke Watanuki , Takao Fujii , and Fukushiro Nukaga . It currently has 48 seats in the Lower House and 29 seats in the Upper House. It is split with members who support Mr. Koizumi and those who do not. The supporters of Mr. Koizumi are more in numbers. Strength in numbers and pork-barrel politics rather than shared ideology holds this faction together.
- Seiwa Seisaku Kenkyukai (Mori Faction ), led by Yoshiro Mori. It is a more reformist faction, and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi belongs to this faction. As of 2004 it has overtaken the Hashimoto faction in the more powerful Lower House, although it trails in aggregate strength across both houses. It currently holds 51 seats in the Lower House and 23 seats in the Upper House.
- Shisuikai (Kamei Faction ), led by Shizuka Kamei . It has 28 seats in the Lower House and 18 seats in the Upper House. It is considered by many to be the most right-wing grouping among the major factions.
- Kochikai (Horiuchi Faction ), led by Mitsuo Horiuchi , it currently has 32 seats in the Lower House and 14 seats in the Upper House. This group was under the leadership of Koichi Kato until a split in 2001. It is more conservative and critical of Mr. Koizumi, and thus more successful than the section led by Kato. This faction historically has been the most prestigious faction, with many of its members drawn from the upper-ranks of the elite bureaucracy
- Kinmirai Seiji Kenkyukai (Yamasaki Faction), led by Taku Yamasaki. It has 24 seats in the Lower House and 5 seats in the Upper House.
- Kochikai (Ozato Faction ), led by Sadatoshi Ozato . It was led by Koichi Kato until 2002, when Kato temporarily quit the Diet over a financial scandal surrounding his personal secretary. Kato was leader of the united Kochikai (including the wing now led by Horiuchi) until 2001, when the Kato Faction split after Kato had staged a failed rebellion against then-Prime Minister Mori Yoshiro. It has 12 seats in the Lower House and 4 seats in the Upper House.
- Bancho Seisaku Kenkyujo (Komura Faction ), led by Masahiko Komura . It has 12 seats in the Lower House and 2 seats in the Upper House.
- Taiyukai (Kono Group ), formerly led by Yohei Kono, who is now Speaker of the House of Representatives. Once part of the former Kato faction, though this group split off during the mid-1990s. It has 9 seats in the Lower House and 1 seat in the Upper House. It is more critical of Mr. Koizumi and more reformist. It is now known as the Former Kono Faction because the resignation of the faction chief and the inability of the party to decide on a new leader.
- Atarashii Nami (Nikai Group), led by Toshihiro Nikai . It includes members of the former New Conservative Party, which dissolved in 2003. It is one of the most right-wing groups in the LDP. It has 4 seats in the Lower House and 2 seats in the Upper House.
There are 25 and 17 factionally unaffiliated LDP members in the Lower and Upper Houses respectively.
The most famous faction in the LDP's history was the Mokuyo Club under the leadership of Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka: it was particularly strong in the seventies and eighties, but collapsed in 1987. Today, the largest, most popular, and most anti-reform faction of the LDP is the Hashimoto Faction, a descendant of the Tanaka faction. The Kochikai was also a powerful and prestigious faction, but it has been weakened by rifts since the early 1990s. While most factions bear official titles, in the Japanese media they are usually referred to by the names of their current leaders.
The official site of the Liberal Democratic Party. It is in Japanese, but there is an English link at the top of the page, where information about the LDP is given in English. On the Japanese page, there is also an e-mail form, but none in English.