Japan’s Broken Politics

How Japan’s Democracy is slowly fading away

After just becoming the prime minister to serve the longest uninterrupted term, a record previously held by his great-uncle, who served for 2,798 days, Abe Shinzo finally announced his resignation.

Abe Shinzo announced his resignation just 4 days after he became the Prime Minister with the longest uninterrupted term in Japanese History.

The fact that Abe’s term, which has been plagued by series of corruption, nepotism, and inadequate responses to emergencies such as the Covid-19 crisis has lasted so long goes to show how the democratic system in Japan is dying.

Democracy cannot exist without the participation of the people, both as candidates and voters. However, the lack of proper representation discourages the people, especially the younger population to turn out and vote, thus public discontent is untranslated in the ballot box. Up until the 90s, around 70% of the eligible voters turned out to vote, but the voter turnout in the most recent election was only 53.7%. While many other democratic nations see similar voter turnout, the issue becomes more apparent when broken down by age group. The turnout of voters aged 18 and 19 were only 40.5%, while those in the 20s had the worst turnout of just 33.9%. In contrast, 63.3% of voters aged 50 to 59 turned out to vote and those in the 60s had the highest voter turnout of 72%. Although it is common to see higher voter turnout amongst the older population, it is much more apparent in Japan and holds much greater repercussions.

One of the biggest issues with such disparities in voter turnout amongst different age groups is that it will encourage politicians to enact policies that only appeal to the older generation. For example, a candidate, or a political party may propose social security programs that will allocate massive funds for the elderly. Such policies will add additional burden to the already immense national debt, which the future generations will be responsible for paying back. Although such ideas would receive a massive backlash from the young population, their lack of participation in elections means that politicians will be less likely to consider their views when attempting to get re-elected. Despite the younger generation experiencing uncertainties over government aid after retirement, the government continues to provide heavy social security benefits for the elderly at the expense of an increase in the national debt. This has resulted in the younger population feeling disillusioned by the current political climate and not voting, which exasperates the issue of voter turnout.

Voter turnout in Japan has been dropping significantly in recent years.

Another major issue with Japanese democracy is the electoral system itself. Since 1996, Japan has used a First-past-the-post system for single-member districts in elections for 289 of the 465 seats in the House of representatives. In this system, each district is smaller, but only the candidate with the most votes can be elected into the house. While this system extremely transparent and makes it easier to count, it fails to provide opportunity for a formidable opposition party to capitalise on the mismanagement of the ruling party and heavily favours the status quo.

Because there are no run-off elections nor a ranking system, a vast portion of the candidates that won the election did not receive majority of the votes. Most of such candidates are from the ruling Liberal-Democratic Party(LDP), as opposition parties failed to consolidate.