The power of the Emperor of Japan is limited. He is the ceremonial figurehead. Constitution mentions him as “the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people”. Power vests with the Prime Minister and the elected members of the Diet. The people of Japan are sovereign. On diplomatic occasions, The Emperor plays his role as the Head of the State. The National Diet is a bicameral parliament. It consists of a House of Representatives with 480 seats.
They are elected by a popular vote once in four years. The House of Councilors has 242 seats. They too are popularly elected for a term of six years. The eligibility age for vote is 20 years. The Emperor of Japan designates the Prime Minister, who is the head of government. This appointment is done after the candidate for the post of Prime Minister is selected by the Diet.
Japan’s post- World War II constitution was adopted on May 3, 1947. Universal adult suffrage with a secret ballot for all elective offices is followed. Sovereignty, previously embodied in the emperor, is vested in the Japanese people now. Japan’s current political system, has something tangible to do with its defeat in the World War II. Subsequent to its occupation by United States, the post-war constitution of 1947 is anti-militarist. Japan has no rights to wage war and it has no armed forces. A limited Self-defense Force exists.
The Constitution of Japan was drawn up subsequent to its occupation by Allied Forces. As per the constitution, Japan is a democratic country.
The Executive Branch
Before World War II, the Emperor was hailed as divine. The Cabinet Ministers are chosen by the Prime Minister and he can have a maximum number of 14 Ministers. Additional three special members are permitted. Half of the Cabinet Ministers must be from the members of the Diet.
The Legislature Branch
This is named as Diet. Decisions are by majority vote. In special cases, two-thirds majority is required. Of the 480 seats of House of Representatives, 300 are elected from single member constituencies and 180 are elected from multi-member constituencies as per the system of proportional representation. The Sangi-in or House of Councilors, has 242 seats. In every three years only half of its membership is re-elected. Of them, 73 are elected from 47 prefecture districts and 48 are elected from a nationwide list by proportional representation. The prefectures are not sovereign entities as compared to the States in USA. They depend on the Central government for financial assistance and subsidies. Bureaucrats are responsible for policy implementation.
Political Parties: Though a democracy, one party, the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) dominates the Japanese political scene, since 1955. In 1993 it was out of power for a short duration of 11 months, when opposition coalition was in power. The other important party is social liberal Democratic Party of Japan (DSPJ). In the General Election of August 2009, it came to power by winning 308 of the 480 seats. It now controls both the Houses. Public funding to political parties is permitted since 1994.Factionalism, in both the parties, is the prominent feature of politics in Japan. There are seven major political parties. Even when the process of formation of governments at various levels is completed, the functioning of democracy takes a different shape. Personal connections and informal net-works play an important role in policy-making and implementation.
The Judicial Branch: Judicial–civil law system based on the model of Roman law is applicable in Japan. The Supreme Court is the highest legal body. Following the recommendations of the Cabinet, the Chief Justice as well as fourteen judges are selected and appointed. The retiring age for the judges is 70 and once in 10 years, the tenure of the judge has to be confirmed by referendum. Japanese judicial system is more or less is on the European civil law, particularly that of France and Germany. The judiciary is independent. There are several levels of courts with the Supreme Court at the top. The Bill of Rights in the constitution is similar to the U.S. Bill of Rights. Supreme Court has the right of judicial review. In Japan no jury system exists nor there are administrative or claims courts. All decisions are made on the basis of legal statues. The final interpretation of all laws vests with the Supreme Court.
What kind of electoral system does it have?
The Electoral System of Japan provides for three elections. General elections to the House of Representatives, is held once in four years. Elections to the House of Councilors held once in three years to choose one-half of its members. Local body elections held once in four years for offices in prefectures, cities and villages.
Each administrative level has election committees to supervise the elections and the overall direction is with the Central Election Administration Committee. Every individual, both sexes, can vote if they are twenty and satisfy the three-month residency requirement. The age limit for the contestants is twenty-five years of age for admission to the House of Representatives and most local offices, and thirty years of age for admission to the House of Councilors and the prefectural governorship.
Suitability of any political system for a particular country goes by the prevailing conditions. What was suitable for Japan during the pre-war era is certainly not suitable now. Power equations change suddenly due to national and international developments. At present is Japan a democracy? Truly Yes!