Japan heads for a two-party system?

. . . and other items of international news

Dateline 01 February 2004

For the better part of the last 50 years, one party dominated Japanese politics. In the last decade, that gave way to a multiplicity of parties briefly. Then, last autumn’s election may have given the country what some observers have long sought: A two-party system.

In the four decades that followed World War II, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) ruled, even though it was so riddled with factions that the prime minister changed often. Each faction, it seemed, had to have a turn at the top job.

All that changed in 1993 when the LDP split and lost power, amid corruption scandals and a deeply shocking recession. When it regrouped in 1994, the party faced a different political world: A multi-party system of coalitions and alliances. The LDP remained the largest party by far, but it faced opposition from parties of the left, right and center and had to form a coalition with the Socialists to return to power.

When the popular maverick, Junichiro Koizumi, became prime minister in April 2001, the LDP seemed likely to consolidate its grip on power. He strongly articulated the need for radical reform. However, even though his party had a majority in parliament, his reform program did not. So, to break the deadlock, he called a snap general election that took place in November 2003.

The LDP emerged a narrow victor, losing 10 seats yet retaining exactly half of those in the parliament. The real winner was the second-place Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which gained 40 seats mostly from smaller opposition parties. The Communists lost more than half of their 20 seats. Two opposition parties – the New Conservatives and the Social Democrats – saw their party leaders go down in defeat.

Canada – Spring election now less likely?

Canada’s ruling Liberal Party had been expected to call an election in the spring, the first to be fought under Paul Martin, who became party leader and prime minister in December. However, a scandal concerning abuse of federal funds in Quebec may have scotched these plans.
To complicate matters, Canada’s two right-wing parties, the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives, plan to merge. This could create a party able to give the Liberals a real challenge, especially if scandals contribute to a resurgence of the New Democrats, a social democratic party on the Liberals’ left flank.

Indian election brought forward

As I predicted in the January issue of Campaigns & Elections, the Indian government has called a spring election. People can vote in April and May, with all counted on May 13. For the first time the world’s largest democracy will use electronic ballots so the results can be announced the same day. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
government is favored to stay in power.

Schroeder government defeated in German poll

Chancellor Gerhard Schroder’s Social Democratic party suffered a severe setback in Hamburg, normally one of the most left wing of Germany’s laender (states). The SPD had ruled Hamburg consistently from the founding of the Federal Republic after the war until 2001 when the rise of Roland Schill’s populist anti-crime party caused an upset.
In 2001 the SPD, however, remained the largest party but the Christian Democrats took power in coalition with Schill. The collapse of Schill’s party in February this year was expected, and the SPD thought it would offer them a route back into power. In fact the Christian Democrat’s won an overall majority in the Land parliament – an event as shocking as if Republicans took control of New York City Council.
There are 13 more elections in Germany this year, mostly in the laender, but also including the European elections in June. Further setbacks for the SPD could give the opposition Christian Democrats up 75% of the upper house in the federal parliament, which is appointed by the laender, as the Senate used to be in the US. Schroeder’s SPD-led coalition government maintains a wafer thin majority in the lower house, but humiliating defeats in land elections could damage his credibility and make it hard to hold the coalition together.

Copyright (c) Quentin Langley 01 February 2004

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