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Guest Post: Matsudaira on Japan Election

The Democratic Party (DPJ) of Japan, Japan's new ruling party, has decided to abolish its policy department. In a notice given to its Diet members by Ichiro Ozawa, the party's director general, the DPJ has prohibited its Diet members from directly proposing bills, within the exception of lawmaking regarding highly political issues, such as electoral law. Instead, a new set of policy workshops will be held between the DPJ's parliamentary corps and its ministers, through which the former can express its policy concerns to the latter. The DPJ cabinet members will take these views into account in the process of bill drafting.

The DPJ's fear is that members of parliament will be captured by interest groups if they are able to propose bills by themselves, and that their role should be limited to reviewing and passing the bills proposed by the cabinet. The Japanese Constitution vests the sole legislative power in the Diet but allows the cabinet to propose bills. But the bureaucracy-dominated system formed in prewar constitutional practice took the position that the the power to propose bills falls within the scope of the executive power. Still, even under the LDP regime, parliament-proposed bills played an important role when Diet members decided to break partisan lines to make laws for which the cabinet had no concern. The DPJ's new policy of cabinet centralism may raise questions about the separation of powers in a parliamentary government.

--Tokujin Matsudaira, Hitosubashi University


  1. This seems like a sensible strategy for the DPJ: early on they need to establish strong party discipline to maintain their coalition and to stand down the bureaucracy, which is their stated immediate goal. But the risk is that the cabinet will lack sufficient information to tackle important policy problems. If you antagonize the bureacracy, and do not incentivise the legislature to provide policy ideas, where do the ideas come from, and on what information are they based?

  2. Thanks for the comment. DPJ has made it clear that the policy making in each of ministries will be conducted by the Minister (1), Vice Minister (1-2) and parliamentary secretary (2), all of them are members of the Diet. But, as you point out, each team is too small to replace tradtional bureaucratic policy making. So far the new ministers still rely on the DPJ's staff to advice them. For DPJ government, it will take months to pass new statutes creating more jobs for political appointee.

    The new government also has banned high rank bureaucrats from holding press conference-under LDP's "ancien regime" administrative heads of ministries forced their bosses to accept their policy by holding press conference or "leaking" to the press. The DPJ government's policy has offended the reporters of mainstream media, who were also beneficiaries and allies of ancien regime, protesting that DPJ's new policy violates freedom of the press.
    Japan has been a state of bureaucracy since the Meiji era, and bureaucrats have seized the power to propose bills, make rules and policies for a hundred years. I don't think they will just accept their failure and go back to work as "public employee".

  3. "The DPJ has prohibited its Diet members from directly proposing bills"

    In the Commonwealth and Ireland this is called a 'Private Member's Bill'. Only a tiny number ever become law, and then only with government support. So I think even if they were abolished it would make a negligible difference.

    Is this kind of bill more important in Japan?

  4. Yes. It was important under the LDP regime, especially after the 1980s.


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