Democratic Party of Japan

Published 30th November, 2012

The Democratic Party of Japan or DPJ or Minshu-tō was founded in 1996 mainly by breakaway groups of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the New Party Harbinger. The party describes itself as Centre-left and believes in the Third Way and Progressivism.

In its first major test in October 1996 the DPJ won 52 of the 500 seats in the House of Representatives or lower house within the National Diet or parliament. In 1998 the party re-launched itself after it had received an influx of MPs following the collapse of the New Frontier Party (NFP).

From this point the party gathered strength, winning 127 of the 480 seats in the 2000 election and 177 seats in the 2003 election.

With a strong comeback by the dominant Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in 2005 the DPJ did less well in that election, winning 113 seats in the 480 seat House of Representatives.

Increasingly beleaguered by political and financial scandals voters turned away from the LDP in 2009, their vote plummeted and in contrast the DPJ had its best result ever by winning 308 of 480 seats. Although that gave them a majority in the lower house, they were still short of seats in the upper house, the House of Councillors and were forced to enter into a coalition with the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the People’s New Party (PNP).

By May 2010 differences with the SDP saw them leaving the coalition government and with the honeymoon period over for the new government they did not do as well as hoped in the 2010 House of Councillors election, taking just 106 of 242 seats in the upper house.

Since then the party has had a troubled existence in government. Ichiro Ozawa who had brought his Liberal Party into the DPJ fold in November 2003 and who had briefly been leader of the DPJ refused to accept some policy changes made by the leadership and by late 2012 had left the party with around 50 other legislators.

Increasingly the party found itself stymied by a lack of majority in the upper house and floundered despite going through three prime ministers. In 2009 Yukio Hatoyama led the party to victory and was its first prime minister. He lasted until 2nd June 2010 when he was replaced by Naoto Kan who lasted until August 2011 and then he was replaced by Yoshihiko Noda who will take the party into the 16th December 2012 general election.

As is much the case with all Japanese parties, the DPJ is factionalised around strong leadership figures as well as the political parties that have merged with the DPJ. Asahi Shimbun newspaper describes the factions:

The Ryōun-kai is centred on the Sakigake Party and is led by Seiji Maehara and Yoshihiko Noda. It is currently probably the strongest but there are also the Seiken kōyaku wo Jitsugen suru kai who come from the LDP and are led by former party leader Yukio Hatoyama. The Minsha Kyōkai are from the Democratic Socialist Party and are led by Tatsuo Kawabata whilst the Kuni no katachi kenkyūkai is led by Naoto Kan. Finally there is the Shin seikyoku kondankai faction which has its origins in the former Japan Socialist Party and who are led by Takahiro Yokomichi.

The Democratic Party of Japan is a member of the Alliance of Democrats.

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