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Following the end of the Japanese Imperial government and the establishment of a more liberal and democratic government, various socialist parties were very popular. In the elections of 1946, the Socialist Party commanded 18.2% of the vote, a Cooperative Party a further 6.3%, and the Communist Party, another 3.8%. In following elections, the Socialist Party grew to become the main opposition party, until a split prior to the 1952 elections where the "Leftist Socialist Party of Japan" received 9.8% of the vote and the "Rightist Socialist Party of Japan" 12.8%. The two separate parties grew in the following two elections, finally merging, before splitting again with the left group becomingthe Japan Socialist Party and the moderates the Democratic Socialist Party. Between them however, the could count on some 36% of the vote in 1960 (27.4% for the Socialist, 8.8% for the Democratic Socialists), with similar results in the 1963, 1967. In the 1969 the SP/DSP vote dropped with the appearance of the Komeitō Party which at the time leant slightly to the left. In the 1972 elections, the Socialist Party achieved 21.9% of the vote, the DSP 7.0%, and a surprisingly resurgent Communist Party 10.5%. Komeitō received 8.5%. Similar results occurred in 1976, and 1979 (Komeitō becoming the New Komeito, or Justice Party), the 1980, 1983, and 1986 elections. In the 1990 elections the Socialist Party reached 24.35%, although this seemed to be at the expense of both the Democratic Socialists and the Communist Party, who declined to 4.84% and 7.96% respectively.

The 1993 election was quite extraordinary. A major insider trading scandal affected huge sections of the ruling LDP who had hitherto had little trouble in securing a majority prior. Members of the LDP joined the socialist and other opposition figures in bringing down the government. The resulting general election saw the election of an Eight Party Alliance achieve 48.60% of the vote over the LDP's 36.62%. Notably however, the Socialist Party vote dropped almost 9% to 15.43%, and the Democratic Socialists by 1.33% to 3.51%. Most of the gains were made by new parties that had split from the LDP; the centre/centre-left Japan Renewal Party (10.10%), the New Party (8.05%). Outside the alliance the Communist Party retained 7.7% of the vote.

By the 1996 election however, the Japanese Socialist Party had become the Social Democratic Party and joined in an electoral alliance with - the Liberal Democrats. The old competitors now had found common ground apparently, and worked together to secure a majority against the centrist New Frontier Party, the centre/centre-left Democratic Party (10.62%). The SDP vote however was a mere sliver of the Japanese Socialists; even in the proportional representation party list, they could only secure 6.38% of the vote. Although part of the government they never recovered any standing of note, picking up 9.36% in 2000, 5.12% in 2003, 5.5% in 2005, 4.27% in 2009, and a mere 2.38% in 2012. During this period the LDP-opposition vote has drifted to the Democratic Party, ideologically an amalgamation of liberal and social-democratic thought, with primacy to the former as indicated by their international affiliation to the Alliance of Democrats. Their vote in the past decade peaked at 42.41% (2010) and reached a nadir a mere two years later at 15.49%. In comparison, the Japanese Communist Party has declined slowly; from 13.08% in 1996 to 11.23% in 2000, 7.76% in 2003, 7.3% in 2005, 7.03% in 2009, 6.17% in 2012.

So whatever happened? The combined solid socialist vote in 1946 was 28.3%; in 2012 it was a mere 8.55%, not counting whatever socialist voters may be casting their ballot in Democratic Party. Whatever that number is, it is still a significant decline. Is it because socialist policies have been largely adopted by mainstream Japan and the socialist parties have been unable to successfully advocate beyond these? Is it because the international situation has changed to such an extent that a socialist party has lost viability? Has the class structure of Japanese society changed? Were there internal reasons among the socialist political parties, or strategic errors?

What is the future of Japanese socialism?

I have, of course, my own opinions on these matters. But it would be interesting for members of the community to pose some suggestions...

February 2016

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