In January 1989 Emperor Hirohito died after a 62-year reign. His son Akihito succeeded him as emperor, inaugurating what was officially called the reign of Heisei, which means “achieving peace.” But it soon proved to be a period of turmoil and reform.
Scandals brought down the administrations of prime ministers Takeshita Noboru and Uno Sosuke in rapid succession in 1989. In national elections held that year, the LDP lost its majority in the upper house for the first time in more than three decades. Kaifu Toshiki was elected as a “clean” candidate to improve the LDP’s image. By then, however, the Tokyo stock market had begun a decline that would last until mid-1992 and see the Nikkei average lose almost two-thirds of its value in what was referred to as the bursting of the bubble economy. Unable to cope with economic malaise and lacking the confidence of prominent party members, Kaifu was replaced in late 1991 by a veteran politician, Miyazawa Kiichi. In 1993 younger LDP leaders, led by Hata Tsutomu and Ozawa Ichiro, became frustrated by the party’s inertia and broke away to form new parties of their own. The loss of these members deprived the LDP of its majority in the lower house, and national elections held that year did not restore it. A coalition of eight opposition parties formed a cabinet under Prime Minister Hosokawa Morihiro, putting an end to the LDP’s long political hegemony.
The political situation continued to deteriorate, however, as the new parties maneuvered for position. Amid allegations that he had accepted an illegal loan in 1982, Hosokawa stepped down in 1994, and the coalition chose Hata as prime minister. Soon afterward, the largest of the eight parties withdrew from the coalition, leaving Hata without a majority in the lower house of parliament. He resigned after only two months in office.
Meanwhile, the power of the political left had dwindled substantially during the late 1980s. After decades in the opposition, the Social Democratic Party of Japan (SDPJ; formerly the Japan Socialist Party) moved to gain more support among voters by adopting a more pragmatic platform. The party even abandoned long-standing positions such as opposition to the mutual security treaty with the United States and the maintenance of the SDF.
In 1994 a coalition cabinet came to power made up of the LDP and its former rival, the SDPJ, electing Murayama Tomiichi Japan’s first socialist prime minister since 1948. But the political parties continued to combine, split, and recombine into new political factions and parties. Murayama, whose coalition government was weak, resigned in January 1996, and the Diet elected LDP leader and former trade minister Hashimoto Ryutaro to the post. Hashimoto formed a coalition government with the SDPJ and Sakigake, a progressive conservative party. In late 1997 the LDP regained a majority in the lower house when a key opposition member returned to the party. Political maneuvering and a stubborn opposition, however, made it difficult for Hashimoto’s cabinet to confront the country’s many economic and political problems.
The following year, the coalition of the LDP, SDPJ, and Sakigake broke up. Unhappy with the state of the economy, Japanese voters inflicted a defeat on the LDP in elections for the upper house in 1998. Accepting responsibility for the defeat, Hashimoto resigned as prime minister. LDP politician Obuchi Keizo replaced him as prime minister, and the LDP entered a new coalition in 1999, this time with the Liberal Party, a group of former LDP members led by Ozawa. Obuchi suffered a stroke in 2000 and lapsed into a coma. He was replaced as prime minister and head of the LDP by longtime LDP politician Mori Yoshiro.
In early parliamentary elections held in 2000 for Japan’s lower house, the House of Representatives, the LDP and its coalition partners suffered losses but retained a majority. Public approval ratings for Mori plunged to below 10 percent due to his reported political blunders and the LDP’s lack of success in reviving the economy. In 2001 the LDP held an early internal election to choose a new party leader to replace Mori as prime minister. Junichiro Koizumi (Western style), a reform-minded former health and welfare minister, was chosen over former prime minister Hashimoto Ryutaro. Koizumi’s victory over the candidate favored by party seniors broke with tradition and was widely interpreted as a sign of growing frustration with Japan’s economic problems.
Koizumi pursued structural reforms of the Japanese economy. In 2005, however, some LDP members in the upper house of the Diet blocked his goal to privatize the national postal service. In response, Koizumi called an early parliamentary election for the lower house. LDP members who had opposed him were officially banished from the party; some of them founded the New People’s Party. In the 2005 election the LDP and its coalition partner, New Komeito, won a landslide victory, taking 327 out of 480 seats. The two-thirds majority gave Koizumi the power to override any opposition to his reforms in the upper house.
Despite his popularity, Koizumi announced his intention to step down at the end of his term in 2006. Accordingly, the LDP chose an ally of Koizumi, Shinz? Abe (Western style) to succeed him. Abe’s selection raised the prospect that Koizumi’s reforms would continue. However, Abe abruptly resigned a year later, citing health reasons. His government had lost its ruling majority in the upper house of the Diet, and his troubles were compounded by a series of corruption scandals involving several of his cabinet ministers. The LDP still held a majority in the lower house of the Diet and thus was able to choose Abe’s successor. Yasuo Fukuda (Western style), son of former prime minister Takeo Fukuda, became the new leader of the LDP and prime minister of Japan. He pledged to follow Abe’s pursuit of a greater role for Japan in world affairs and also voiced a more conciliatory approach to Japan’s neighbors. Fukuda lasted less than a year, however, as his approval ratings plummeted and his legislative agenda was stymied in the opposition-controlled upper house of the National Diet. Fukuda was succeeded in 2008 as LDP leader and prime minister by Taro Aso (Western style), a former foreign minister and veteran legislator known as a stalwart conservative. "Japan" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.
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