Although the conservative merger was in large part a reaction to developments on the left, it was also intended to settle the aforementioned institutional power struggles once and for all.
The result was the so-called 1955 system, under which the LDP progressively consolidated power, while the JSP settled into the role of perennial opposition.
This growth process mirrors the evolution of the prime minister’s leadership role over the past few decades.
The third cabinet of Prime Minister Hatoyama Ichirō (November 1955–December 1956) made the first moves in that direction at the initiative of Kōno Ichirō, minister of the (now defunct) Administrative Management Agency.
Kōno’s stated goal was to enhance the leadership role of the nation’s “top management,” by which he meant the prime minister and his cabinet ministers.
This institutional power struggle defined Japanese politics and government in the 1950s.
In 1955, the two feuding branches of the Japan Socialist Party reunited, and Japan’s conservative forces merged to form the Liberal Democratic Party.
Under the 1955 system, LDP rule continued uninterrupted for 38 years, until the rise of an anti-LDP coalition cabinet in 1993.
It was during this period of uninterrupted LDP rule, as the bureaucracy took an increasingly active role in policymaking, that the need for a “stronger cabinet” emerged as a recurring theme of administrative reform.The Prime Minister’s Official Residence, known as the Kantei, can be thought of as Japan’s answer to the White House: it serves as both home and headquarters to the nation’s chief executive, and its name is a metonym for that top government office.But until relatively recently, a powerful bureaucracy and a tradition of decentralized decision making, added to the inherent constraints of Japan’s parliamentary system, had reduced the Kantei to little more than an onlooker in the actual policymaking process.This focus on forceful leadership from the Kantei, as the prime minister’s official residence and offices are known, was particular intense during the administration of Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichirō (April 2001–September 2006), who electrified the nation by appointing cabinet members in defiance of his own party’s powerful faction leaders and pushing through controversial reforms over the objections of key government agencies and ministries.Of course, no prime minister can make policy single-handedly.In the following, I examine this historical process in greater detail with a view to shedding light on the meaning of “Kantei leadership” under the new LDP cabinet of Abe Shinzō.