Social Democratic Party

Published 30th November, 2012

The Social Democratic Party or SDP or Shakai Minshu-tō was founded in 1945 but was known at that point as the Japan Socialist Party (JSP). It was in 1996 that the party changed its name to the Social Democratic Party (SDP). The party describes itself as a Centre-left party and believes in the Third Way and Social Democracy.

The JSP was briefly in power as early as 1947, but only for a few months as part of a wider coalition. After that it remained in opposition until 1993.

The early years of the JSP looked very promising, in 1946 they won 96 of the 464 seats in the House of Representatives and that went up to 144 seats in the 1947 general election. After that disaster struck; the party lost the 1949 election dropping 96 seats to just 48 seats. After the defeat it dissolved into chaos and was split into the Rightist Socialist Party and the Leftist Socialist Party.

Divided they lost election after election and it was only in 1955 when the two factions merged once more that the party regrouped as the JSP. In 1958, in the first election as the new JSP they won 167 seats in the 467 seat House of Representatives.

The JSP managed to keep between 90 and 144 seats for much of the rest of the period up until 1993, but were working against the strength and might of the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan (LDP) who knocked them into second place every time.

In 1989 under the first woman party leader in Japan, Takako Doi they won over the LDP in the upper house elections of 1989 and did well in the lower house elections.

Only the unpopularity of a new consumption tax and the Recruit insider trading scandal was able to humble the LDP. Unfortunately the JSP also did badly in the 1993 election and although they retained second place they dropped 66 seats and went down to 70 seats. Nevertheless they went on to form a coalition government from 1993 to 1994 and then formed a coalition government with the LDP with JSP leader Tomiichi Murayama as prime minister.

The experiment was not a great success and in the 1996 general election the now SDP dropped to 15 seats in a 500 seat House of Representatives. Part of the reason behind this was because during the transition from the JSP to the SDP the party fractured and created the right wing group which formed the Democratic Party and a militant left group which formed the New Socialist Party.

The remnant SDP never recovered, taking 19 seats in 2000, six seats in 2003 and seven seats in 2005 and 2009. In 2009 the SDP joined the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) in a coalition government but left the coalition in 2010.

The Social Democratic Party is a member of Socialist International.

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