Kabashima and Steel argue that the Japanese political system has become more democratic since the early 1990s. Elected politicians have more influence over policy than they did before, reducing the power of bureaucrats; voters give less patronage-based loyalty to the local Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) candidates and vote increasingly in response to the policies of the prime minister; more voters are party switchers; and the media give voters better information about politics. Driving these changes have been economic stagnation, new electoral rules, reform of the policymaking system at the cabinet level, and increased news programming on TV. The twists and turns of the book’s argument are sometimes hard to follow, as the authors synthesize the work of numerous specialists, opinion and voting surveys, and the research of Kabashima’s seminar at Tokyo University. As the narrative unfolds, the populist ability of former LDP Prime Minister Junichirō Koizumi to run against his own party seems more important than any other factor. If the changes are structural, then politicians like him should continue to emerge, but no new Koizumi seems to be waiting in the wings.
Get the latest book reviews delivered to your inbox.