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Discussion Paper 3 in 2007
First published in ejcjs on 14 June 2007

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Is Japanese Politics 'Un-Westminster'?

Examining the Role of the PARC


Masatsugu Yoshioka

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This essay sets out to emphasise the prevailing claim that 'Japanese politics is un-Westminster', an impressive phrase to which many political scientists have been attracted. Usually the phrase means the lack of leadership of the Japanese executive in two ways; (a) the lack of the prime minister's complete control over the bureaucracy and (b) its control over the backbenchers. The latter issue is the focal point of this essay.

Vocal Japanese backbenchers are known as zoku MPs, and are notorious for their reluctance to delegate power to their leaders and to induce the government to modify its policies in order to promote their own individual electoral needs by making use of their seats on an internally-structured committee of the ruling party. This phenomenon has deviated from Westminster-style politics, typically seen in the UK, where much of the cabinet strength is observed. Hence the term; 'un-Westminster'.

In this essay I shall try to discover what factors have encouraged the ruling party, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), to devise and use such a policy-making system and whether some Japanese cultural factors have had an effect on the normal day-to-day operation of the Westminster system in Japan.

The Claim That Japanese Politics Is 'Un-Westminster'

Mulgan points out that the role of the Japanese prime minister is to articulate the agreed consensus reached in the 'dual party/bureaucracy policy-making structure' whereby bureaucrats and ruling party backbenchers decide everything, without consulting with the core executive. Having observed the way this system operates (and the 'actors' behave!) she asserts that a very 'un-Westminster system' is seen in Japanese politics. This is not a new idea; many domestic and foreign scholars think Japanese politics has deviated from the original, ideal style of the Westminster model. When Jiro Yamaguchi stated that the parliamentary members of the ruling party frequently discuss policies, regardless of the intention of the cabinet,[1] leading to a 'cleavage' between the backbenchers and the cabinet he has the same idea. Stockwin puts it this way;

[I]n the classic British case, the Westminster model has been found to be compatible with a dominant prime minister. In Japan, the prime minister has typically been a cautious figure, constrained by complex political forces, seeking influence through the assiduous cultivation of consensus and usually having limited tenure.[2]

He goes on;

[V]ery broadly speaking, it seems reasonable to describe Japanese prime ministers as ranging between weak and moderately effective. Moreover, the Japanese cabinet has not been the central locus of decision making that one would expect from the British model, though again there are differences between periods and issues.[3]

The central notion of Westminster style politics is that 'much of the executive's strength' is supported by 'party cohesion in the House of Commons' at the expense of 'lack of independence of the legislature.'[4] Under the majority rule in Parliament, this can be attained if, as Norton beautifully puts it, 'the Cabinet comprises the leaders of the political party (or parties) that commands a majority in Parliament and so is able to place measures before Parliament that are almost certain to be passed.'[5]

In the Japanese Diet, the non-amenable and vocal backbenchers (the so-called zoku MPs [6]) are able to negotiate with the premier by making use of their powers of veto granted by the Policy Affairs Research Council (PARC) built into the LDP. As the Nikkei Shimbun stated in 1983; 'All bills and policy propositions are under the scrutiny of PARC'. The PARC plays a role of a pre-consultation organisation before the placement of a bill to the parliamentary committees. More importantly, the decision of the PARC is based on a de facto unanimous vote.[7] As a more reliable source, the LDP admits:

In many cases, ministry staff will meet with individual members of the division in an attempt to build a consensus before any official deliberation of the division. Because of this custom, little dispute on policy matters surfaces within the division's meetings.[8]

The 'unanimous rule' gives each committee member the strongest form of negotiation leverage; the power of veto! Thus, the PARC members are able to 'use their committee positions to induce the bureaucracy to modify policy to promote their individual electoral needs'.[9] While British Parliamentary parties do not hold pre-consultation meetings to allow backbenchers veto powers, the delegation to the party leader by backbenchers in Japan is 'not as complete as in Britain. To be sure, LDP Diet members insist on more involvement in policymaking'.[10] This essay explores the reason why the LDP executive forms such committees and why the 'unanimous rule' is the standard form.

Rational Interpretation of the PARC—As A Whip-In Vehicle

The PARC committee as Whip-In Vehicle

The first explanation of the rationale for the PARC's existence is related to party coherence. The former LDP Chief Whip, T. Yamazaki said in April 1996 'the internal rule of the LDP policy making procedure[11] mandates that whipped voting isn't produced until a proposed policy passes all the steps of the internal policy making procedure.' Obviously, the PARC is ideally placed to decide the party voting line, i.e. one of the steps to produce whipped voting (Tōgi Kōsoku). In this sense, it is recognised as a vehicle for party whips to control the party members in the Diet and thus control the members' votes.

This structure is especially important in the shorter Japanese parliamentary session (compared to the Westminster Parliament). The rule in Japan is the same as in the UK;[12] 'any matter not decided in a session shall not be carried over into the following session.'[13] In both countries, if the government fails to pass a bill before the end of a session it must place the bill as new before Parliament or the Diet in the following session, with the attendant likelihood of repetitively aggressive and possibly embarrassing questions from the opposition. The difference between the two countries is that in Japan the longest session of the House of Representative is only 150 days (with the possibility of some extension), while in the UK the House of Commons is in session for a year.[14] Due to this shorter parliamentary period, the Japanese ruling party has a strong incentive to ensure that any bill passes as quickly and as smoothly as possible. The pressure to speed bills through the Diet in order to complete its program within the same short session is much higher in Japan than in the UK. It is therefore not surprising that in Japan the ruling party strives for greater solidarity and cohesion in the parliamentary division stage than does the British.[15] Consequently, they can avoid the time-wasting question and answer sessions, thus ensuring a smooth passage of any bill. Japanese parliamentary politics has developed into a different vehicle, a mutant of the Westminster system.

The PARC has been seen by scholars as a 'locus of zoku MPs'[16] but not clearly recognised as a whip-in vehicle. In this respect, Maurice Wright correctly states 'Division chairmen [of the PARC] normally served ex officio as the Whips of the corresponding Diet standing committees.'[17] Yet this statement is incomplete and vague. The claim that division chairmen of the PARC appear to be whips is, in my opinion, exactly correct.

Three Internal Rules

The claim that the PARC are the 'institutional vehicles for whipping-in' requires qualification in light of several related LDP internal rules. I shall try to prove the existence of the rules one by one, showing each source, as the logical consequence intended to be shown here closely relies on the exact details of the rules.

The First Rule: The LDP's internal process is typically finalized before the government officially submits a bill to the Diet. Evidence of this is clearly shown by the uproar demonstrated by the MP Mr. Noda over the Koizumi cabinet's submission of the Postal Office Privatization Act – presumably before being approved by the internal LDP committees.[18]

The Second Rule: The decision of the PARC is based on a de facto unanimous vote.[19] As a more reliable source, the LDP admits:

In many cases, ministry staff will meet with individual members of the division in an attempt to build a consensus before an official deliberation of the division. Because of this custom little dispute on policy matters surfaces within the division's meetings.[20]

The Third Rule: The members of the parliament committees 'automatically' belong to the corresponding committees of the PARC.[21]

If these rules do actually exist, the combined result would have an obvious effect on party coherence: party whips would relax once the party decision process has been finalised because any uncertainty of any member's vote would be totally eliminated. As each MP is a member of the corresponding committees in both the PARC and the Diet, a unanimous vote in the PARC committee automatically leads to the same vote in the parliamentary committee. Thus, when a typical bill is submitted to the Diet, the related committee members would already have approved it in the course of their PARC discussions, thereby obviating the need for the party whips to ensure coherence in the parliamentary division. Accordingly, Division chairmen of PARC act as party whips and the PARC is recognised as a whip-in vehicle to ensure whip control.

PARC As The Vote Exchange Market—An Efficiency Context

The second argument demonstrates that the existence of the PARC (and the granting to it of ex-ante veto powers) is based not on Japanese-specific cultural influences but on the LDP executive's rational strategy to maximize welfare and avoid possible risk.

As a Market Place to Enhance Party Welfare

The PARC committee plays an important role as a political logrolling place to serve the interests of each member. Members exchange their political preferences with one another at the PARC committee. The classical 'Gains from Exchange' theory, advocated by Shepsle and Weingast, suggests that, by exchanging support for a vote, legislators can maximize their personal welfare. When a legislator's expected 'income' from his or her own proposals exceeds the 'expenditure' he or she must bear in supporting the projects of other legislators, exchanging help with transaction partners yields a net gain. I can provide a useful illustration of this by showing a famous example from a political scientist, John A Ferejohn;[22] where a Midwesterner received agriculture subsidies in exchange for food stamps which an urban legislator had earlier received. Policy makers capture aggregate gains in policy outcomes from logrolling. An exchange of support with others implicates Pareto improvements on policy outcomes. The problem here, as pointed out by Weingast and Marshall,[23] is that policy exchange events may not be available for effective trading. Spot trading may not satisfy the needs of exchange for legislators, especially in terms of transaction costs—finding trading partners and negotiating with them on terms of trade may appear too costly. To cope with this problem, Fiorina observes, the US Congressional committees function as a 'formal expression of a comprehensive logrolling arrangement.'[24] As a solution to the spot market problem, this system, by pairing up legislators who have a joint interest in a specific policy, enables them to logroll in a less costly way. Moreover, it permits the legislators to exchange their influence with other committee legislators. ('Inter-committee Logrolls'[25]) In this Congressional committee system, the legislators who are allowed to exercise disproportionate influence on a specific policy area on which they place great priority can further swap their influence across different jurisdictions.

The equivalent of a market place for the US Congressional committees is the PARC committees. Members are put into groups and take disproportionate responsibility for a specific policy area on which members place most concern. Committee members are given votes for the division of the committee in a manner that enables every member to use their vote as a bargaining power to conduct logrolling. This mechanism leads to a market-like situation where some members support the bill, not only because they capture gains from a specific bill but also because they expect a long-term interest from their support. Due to the recognition and understanding that the burdens a Member may bear today are expected to be offset by the benefit to others tomorrow, the vote dealing continues unabated.

Another understanding of the PARC committee further reinforces this view of it as a market place. As Inoguchi and Iwai observe, an LDP member can be a member of up to three PARC committees. A parliamentary committee may accommodate only 20 LDP members whereas the corresponding PARC committee accommodates 60 LDP members. If we believe the nature of the PARC committee to be merely a whip-in vehicle in the committee division (as I suggested above) the need for the extra intake of the PARC itself cannot be fully explained by this argument. Securing majority votes in a parliamentary committee can be ensured by the approval of the PARC committee members, who also belong to that committee. Party Whips do not need to obtain approvals from 40 outsiders who are not committee members.[26] The gap between the number of members on a parliamentary committee and on the PARC committee (i.e. the 40 other member intake in the PARC committees) can only be explained by other needs—the further needs of accommodating the interests of other members who are not actual members of the parliamentary committee. The answer here, proposed in line with the argument of the 'Gains from exchange' theory, is that this institution serves to enhance more complex logrolls; a highly developed political market place suitable for inter-committee logrolls. As we see above, the simplest form of logrolling is intra-committee logrolling. More complicated forms of logrolling involve different members across different committees. Because inter-committee logrolls can be made in the forming of an omnibus bill with sequential procedure, with first one group and then another carrying out its part of legislative bargain, overall coordination is needed. For example; to create an omnibus bill in the US legislative procedure the following procedures must be followed; firstly an ordinary bill must be introduced, and then secondly another bill would be created as an amendment to the first bill by the Rules Committee.

This complex legislative procedure leads to the inevitable involvement of the legislative floor, which in fact needs the party leadership's support. Without control over the whole legislative schedule, the first initiator has no guarantee that the other side will be in due course given a chance to uphold the deal[27] (Cox and McCubbins call inter-committee logrolling a 'complex' procedure[28]). The LDP has established the PARC committee as the official inter-committee logrolling locus which thus enables members from different committees to exchange their influences in their specific political sphere and make a deal across the jurisdiction. It is easy for one committee member to negotiate and deal with other members from different committees at the PARC committee stage simply because they are all present at the one time.[29] The transaction costs of legislators who exchange influences with other partners in other jurisdictions are further mitigated by this institutional solution. Giving the official status of a PARC member to outside members with votes for the division of the PARC stimulates the logrolling in the other jurisdiction members as well as within their own jurisdictions. Thus the PARC committee plays the role of a market place for exchanging votes and the chairman of the PARC committee acts as 'an information clearinghouse' and 'vote broker'.[30]

Discussions in PARC committees enable information, initially belonging to one member, to be disseminated to the others. (Krehbiel identifies this function of the committee in the US context, called marketplace.) Originally designed as a whip-in vehicle to ensure smooth flow of information, it developed into a vote exchange market place. This is not surprising because in both functions the key feature is the dissemination of monopolized information by the initiators. Furthermore, it is a logical consequence that the functions of whip-in and vote exchange markets co-exist within the PARC committees because their functions overlap in terms of informational aspects. As Krehbiel observes, the Congressional committees play a role of repositories of parliamentary information and expertise which was bestowed on them by the congressional majority. The PARC committees have evolved as whip-in vehicles and as a market place, making use of their advantages as information repositories.

Given the understanding of the PARC committee as a market place for vote exchange, it is not unreasonable to predict that a future British parliamentary party may adopt this institution to maximise the welfare of its party members. No mater how strong a party whip is, he or she must always be prepared to 'make a deal' with backbenchers.[31] There is a committee to smooth the information flow between the prime minister and the backbenchers, but it is still not emphasized by the party, at least in comparison with the Japanese PARC committees. This prediction suggests that British parties may establish some kind of institutional structure within their party systems (or outside of the parliamentary system) which possesses both the functions of a whip-in vehicle and a vote exchange market place. The Japanese parliamentary system cannot be said to be un-Westminster, based on the existence of the active committee system outside the Diet.

Veto Power Under The Unanimous Rule

(i) Threat of Party Defection Rationale

The most important feature of the PARC committees is their power of veto under the unanimous rule. Such authority endows backbenchers with considerable bargaining power, giving them greater leverage over policies proposed by the party executives and is a major reason why party executives are deprived of a chance to show leadership. The rationale behind the adoption of this rule at the PARC committee stage by the party will be discussed shortly. In the following section, a common interpretation of the unanimous rule will be proven inaccurate and an alternative interpretation will be submitted.

Ramseyer and Rosenbluth state that an inter-factional unanimous rule is the norm for 'important' party issues, and that this rule is a logical consequence arising from their model. In their model, a large faction, supported by a large number of LDP members, gains strong bargaining power by threatening defection and thus the destruction of the party coalition.[32] Thus, to avoid this destruction, the various groups struggle to maintain their unity and adopt the unanimous rule in major party decisions. It is obvious that, from their point of view, crucial party decisions include the division for the selection of the President of the LDP, as well as the appointment of the prime minister himself. However, in cases of comparatively minor decisions, this argument is not always relevant. Is the threat of defection by each faction always an effective tool for bargaining?[33] If just one member of the faction opposes a bill but the leader of the faction is in favour of it, how would the LDP react? In British politics, such a one-off rebellion by a single parliamentary party member is not taken seriously. As Cowley noted; one whip sarcastically said[34] to one of the more rebellious Labour MPs on the night after an opposition vote was taken 'Good to see you voting with us tonight'. There are important bills in each period – usually five – and the cabinet has a strong interest in ensuring a majority vote to win the bills if there is a serious threat of defection. However, there are also approximately a hundred bills which are dealt with in the course of routine work where the threat of a defection is not expected to be serious. Most parliamentary members' time is used up on such 'unimportant' bills.

The argument that the threat of defection will always work in achieving unanimous agreement in the party decision making process is unwarranted. The reasoning proposed by Ramseyer and Rosenbluth does not seem to be applicable to routinely conducted legislative work. This is partly attributed to the fact that the threat of defection does not work in such situations, taking into consideration the huge damage the triggering party (a dissatisfied faction in this instance) incurs and in part because it is possible that a one-off rebellion by a member does not necessarily lead to the defection of the party as a whole. If this is so, why is the unanimous rule (which grants each MP the power of veto) always applied to the PARC committee division, despite an absence of the risk of party annihilation? This question is even more puzzling when contrasted with the UK's parliamentary politics, when there have been instances where rebellious backbenchers defeated the government but did not damage their party.

(ii) Risk-Averse Institutional Choice Rationale

The alternative rationale proposed here is the logical institutional choice rationale. The advantages of an institutional arrangement of the unanimous cloture contrasts mainly with the majority cloture, where a simple majority is needed to terminate the debate. The unanimous rule effectively gives each member the power of veto and thus each individual member is given the right to block what he or she does not want. The central feature of the unanimous cloture in the PARC committees is that each PARC committee member is delegated a monopolistic agenda-setting ex ante power of veto over issues that are of the most interest to him, whereas the majority cloture may not give such authority to each individual.

Suppose that a rule maker of the internal LDP executive is given an unnecessary choice of an institutional arrangement between a unanimous cloture and a majority cloture. A simple game below shows us that they would prefer a unanimous cloture over a majority cloture because all members would want to receive some of the benefits bestowed by the power of the veto, i.e. their votes used as bargaining chips for their own interests.[35]

The mechanism of the game is runs as follows;

Presupposing that there is a finite financial resource (say one dollar); three players choose to divide it under either a unanimous cloture or a majority cloture. The utility of one dollar to each player is the same. In either case, each player reasonably expects to receive one-third of a dollar before the game because, ex ante, an equal vote is granted to each player. In the game where the majority cloture is used, as each player fears that the other two players may make a coalition to exclude him, his/her optimal strategy will be to seek a winning coalition before being the one excluded. Inevitably, ex post, the majority cloture fails to allocate the resource equally to each player. The result of the utility of each player arising from this cloture is identical to the results of lottery. Nobody is sure whether they can attain what they expected ex ante.

In the other instance, under a unanimous cloture rule, as each member can wield a veto against any proposal which harms his/her expected utility, the equilibrium of the unanimous cloture game ensures an equal allocation of resource i.e. one-third of a dollar to each MP, ex post. In other words, ex ante, both institutional arrangements give the perfectly equal weighted rights to all members, but ex post, only the unanimous cloture ensures equal allocation of resource, thus equal utility to the members.

This simple yet formal analysis shows us that undoubtedly, risk-averse rule makers will choose the unanimous cloture in this binary choice and thus avoid a lottery-like mechanism as in the majority cloture. Put another way, the universal agreements will 'result in higher benefits in the long run to districts than majority rule' as Morris P. Fiorina states, and also that a unanimous cloture is the 'institutional equilibrium in this binary institutional-choice game.'[36]

Figure 1: Payoffs from players' strategy under the unanimous cloture game

Unanimous Cloture

Strategy of Other (Two) Players

    Seek a Coalition Does Not Seek a Coalition
Strategy of Seek a Coalition

0, 3/3

1/2, ½

Player One Not Seek a Coalition

0, 3/3

1/3, 1/3

The left side of each box shows the preference (payoffs) of Player One.

The PARC committee adopts the unanimous cloture as the norm because the risk-averse leaders of the LDP recognise its universal distribution effect, not because they fear the threat of defection by the factions. A unanimous cloture is always applicable (even to routinely-conducted legislative works) because the rule ensures a predictable equal resource allocation to their members. The universal distribution of resources is advantageous to all incumbent LDP members over the members of the other parties, as well as the newcomers. In an election campaign, the incumbent LDP members can not only rely on the popularity of their platform but also on their claim for having delivered public services. Being an LDP member produces equal advantages. Looking at figure 2, suppose that in a multi-member district A, four incumbents (three LDP members and a non-LDP member) plus a newcomer compete for a seat in the next election and the incumbent LDP members are allocated a total of one dollar. If the LDP adopts the unanimous cloture, the political market will give the incumbent members 1/3 of a dollar each. Suppose the incumbents gain credit through forcing the government to spend 1/3 of a dollar, which is subject to the incumbents' management. They already have a 1/3 of a dollar advantage over their opponents. This advantage provides each candidate with a greater chance of winning. If the LDP adopts the majority cloture, the political market will give two of the incumbent LDP members half a dollar each and the remaining member nothing. Thus in an election, only two candidates are seeded players. Given the fact that, in a multi-member constituency, the personal vote component is more important for election purposes than the popularity of the platform,[37] the player who was unfortunately not previously awarded any resources will have to fight on the same level as the non-LDP incumbent as well as the newcomer.

Figure 2


Multi Member District A
Incumbent Incumbent Incumbent Incumbent Newcomer




D (non-LDP)


Unanimous Cloture






Majority Cloture






Predictably, by adopting a unanimous cloture in the PARC committee, the LDP as a whole can look forward to more parliamentary seats for the advantaged candidates. Thus, the universal distribution of resources may increase the possibility of the incumbents winning rather than that of the lottery-like distribution system, which the majority cloture gives. Ramseyer and Rosenbluth stated that 'The delegation [to the party leader by backbenchers] is not as complete as in Britain. To be sure, LDP Diet members insist on more involvement in policymaking'.[38] LDP party rule-makers allow the persistence of LDP members for the reasons explained above.

Furthermore, the unanimous cloture has the effect of making the political market more efficient. As the initiator (or other strongly-motivated members) needs to obtain more votes in a unanimous cloture than a majority cloture, this cloture has an incentive for the members who monopolize the information for dissemination by contacting each other more frequently than in the majority cloture. Motivated legislators vigorously logroll with other members for a win by putting great effort in the dissemination of information, trading votes and influence. This vigorous political market place, resulting from a unanimous cloture, successfully spreads information and knowledge (usually shared by only a handful of people) to all members. In turn the political marketplace gains efficiency through the smooth flow of information, effectively increasing the success rate of 'deals' over time and maximizing aggregate welfare, particularly for their re-election interests and constituency service. This efficient market cannot be attained by a spot market.[39] The aggregate party will also be rewarded for securing seats in the Diet by delivering public goods. Thus the PARC committee – like a paired-up group – serves as a policy exchange market, while the choice of when to make an announcement on the closing of the bills is in the hands of the committee chairman of the PARC, as a rule of the game.

Only members of the PARC committee (where the legislators having similar preferences in specific policy areas are paired up) are blessed with the gate-keeping power of the veto. The non-committee members do not have any opportunity to deal with the new proposed project with the ex ante veto power. Thus, strictly speaking, the PARC committee system does not ensure the equal allocation of resource to all its members. The equal allocation is expected to be achieved only within the members of the committee in question.

According to the observations of Inoguchi and Iwai, the rule is that each member of the LDP is allocated a committee membership primarily depending on his or her preference. The rationale behind this rule is derived from the intrinsic problem of preference of heterogeneity among members. That is, the equal allocation of resources does not necessarily mean the equal utility of each member. In other words, each member may attach a different value to the resource allocated by the proposed bill and the resultant equal allocation may not yield an efficient equilibrium. Suppose that one million yen was allocated to a member on the condition that it has to be spent in a specific area. This amount of money may enable the member to obtain more votes in a small enterprise policy than in (say) a health policy, because the former (unlike the latter) sees the positive attitude of the government stimulate a further flow of investment from private companies. The difference in the utility is also caused by the difference in the marginal rate of increase of voters in the specific policy area; some voters may be more demanding than other voters in the other policy areas. If we recognise the difference in value attached to different policy areas, it is evident that the policy of equal allocation of a resource to all members, independent of their preference, does not yield efficient outcomes.

The policy of partitioning the policy areas and pairing up the members into groups based on their preferences has positive effects in providing efficient outcomes. This is due to the fact that among members of similar ideals and areas of interest, the eventuality of the unanimous rule is the possibility of an almost equal welfare increase to all. High level inter-policy-area-allocation, which is believed to be out of the ambit of inter-committee member logrolling, is not just delegated to the political market place and the party leadership alone retains the allocation of power.

Based on the analysis of the unanimous rule, the claim that the party rule, which by allowing Japanese backbenchers to exercise their 'ex ante power of veto' inevitably deprives the otherwise powerful cabinet core executive of exercising power, is supported by the following arguments; The unanimous rule, which enables the vote of each MP to be transformed into a 'veto power', is an institutional equilibrium in a binary choice situation created by rational party rule makers. The scholarly statement that a Japanese party 'hesitates' in the complete delegation of power - from the backbenchers to the core executives - overlooks the efficiency context of the legislative political literature. The backbenchers are allowed to exercise the power of veto, not because they dislike being subordinate to their powerful leaders, but because both groups recognise that the rule ensures the universal distribution of welfare, thus giving the incumbent advantage over the newcomers through the equal allocation of resources. The argument which is submitted here is that the phenomenal choice of strong backbenchers in Japanese parliamentary politics is not cultural but is built on rational calculation. This notion also reinforces my own view that the Japanese parliamentary system is not 'un-Westminster' but is rather a derivative form of the Westminster style.

In addition to the argument above, one interesting logical consequence can be derived. The immutability of the ruling party in Japan is often reasoned - in an ideological and geopolitical context – by the fact that the LDP can potentially act as a bastion against communist influences. The unusual longevity of the LDP's rule can be attributed to the strong support given to it by capitalists. However, new ground may be broken on the classical claim that the institutional structure of the LDP enabled the party to survive longer by taking advantage of a deliberately structured maximizing welfare mechanism which the British parties do not possess. It is interesting to note that the LDP has presided over the premiership for 38 years and continues to do so while the British Conservative party thrived for 18 years (half that of the LDP) and is now out of power!

Recognizing Japan's peculiar situation in the post war period as a stronghold against communist countries somewhat supports this line of reasoning. Although it is unwise to place too much emphasis on this, I believe this theory holds some water.

Implications for UK Party Politics

The rational understanding of the adoption of unanimous rule in the PARC committee offers an implication which is applicable to any democratic Westminster-styled party politics, including UK party politics. That is, sufficiently risk-averse party rule-makers should offer a policy exchange 'marketplace' within its party system and allow each member to exercise an ex ante power of veto. I suggest that we view this from a different angle. We should not ask why Japanese backbenchers are too rebellious against the prime minister; rather we should ask why British backbenchers are not allowed to exercise an ex ante power of veto against the bills a government proposes. The puzzling fact here is not why Japanese party politics yield vocal zoku MPs, but why British party politics produce neither a committee dedicated to pre-consultation procedures (e.g. the PARC committee) nor zoku-like MPs.

In this section, I shall delve into the two reasons why British party politics is 'un-Nagatacho.'[40] Firstly, the British parliament does not have a permanent committee system which can precipitate an initial motivation on the part of party leaders to create a pre-consultation mechanism outside Parliament. Secondly, British party leaders recognise the intrinsic problem of unanimous cloture of the committee—equal allocation reducing gains which initiators reasonably expect to capture, thus the incentive to propose bills and the incidence of the value-increasing bill proposal is reduced.

The preference for unanimous consensus in the conferences is sometimes explained by domestic scholars as the result of Japanese cultural 'Mentsu' politics, which means that leaders in Japan are strongly averse to confronting dissidents in public because the showing of such an internal conflict is a sign of management failure and thus considered to be shameful. I admit that the Japanese culture has this characteristic but to ascribe the absence of rebellion in a parliament solely to Japanese culture is a mistake. British party leaders too avoid public confrontation at the first opportunity. As shown above, the Tory MP Nicholas Winterton was not re-appointed as chairman of the Health Select Committee in July 1992 after the Conservative whips found his critical stance and his disobedient voting record embarrassing and undermining to party discipline.[41] In 1997, the Whips office of the Labour party 'aimed to be consultative and inclusive, hoping to prevent problems arising as early as possible.'[42] For this reason, it seems unsatisfactory to attempt to distinguish and justify unanimous cloture from a cultural standpoint. Instead, it is far better to discuss discuss the incentives and merits of the institutional structure.

Non-Independent and Non-Permanent Standing Committee

The United Kingdom does not have permanent standing committees. All committees are dissolved after serving their purpose. Moreover, the choice of membership to standing committees is made by the Committee on Selection, which takes into account party composition and is heavily influenced by the whips of both sides.[43] Thus, there is no motivation to ensure a majority vote in the standing committee division outside the parliamentary stage. This is considered a major reason why British party politics does not have PARC-like committees. If the reforms considered by the Select Committee on Modernization of the House of Commons[44] for increasing committee independence are to be successful, the need may arise for the party to ensure a majority vote in the select committee.

The Modernisation Committee proposes that (a) pre-consultation of draft bills should be conducted by select committees (Paragraph 34), (b) the value of a parliamentary career devoted to scrutiny should be elevated by raising the salary of the chairmen of select committees (Paragraph 41), and (c) an alternative nominating mechanism (which preserves the impartiality of the select committee instead of the current Committee of Nomination) should be established to avoid party influence on appointment of committee members (Paragraph 17).[45] In such an instance, the government may want to ensure a majority vote in the pre-consultation select committee stage to avoid defeat. If meetings between front benchers and committee members are periodically held to sound out the interests of the members of the select committees, it would mean the birth of an internal committee like the PARC committee.

The Inherent Problem of Unanimous Cloture

The second counter-argument favouring the majority cloture is the problem that arises when MPs essentially become 'free-riders' on the efforts of the initiator who makes a draft of the bill. This concern is explained as follows:

The initiator only enters into the preparation for bills if he believes that the gain from the bill exceeds the cost he or she paid to prepare for it. However, if the legislation-making rules requires the prospective gains to be shared with the other members through 'buying out' the veto votes, initiating bills may become less attractive, stunting an otherwise efficient market for political influence.[46] Unless initiators are able to capture all the 'gains' from a prospective bill, not all proposed bills would be efficient. Forcing initiators to share the benefits with other members might instead serve as a bulwark, defending the status quo against necessary changes and lowering the pressure on them to initiate due to uncertainty.

Moreover, the initiator bears a substantial risk in spending his or her time and money in preparing a bill. If the initiator has to suffer a loss arising from the failure of the bill, this loss is borne solely by him/her and not shared by the others. Yet the others are likely to at least enjoy the benefits of the passing of the bill, if and when the public goods are delivered due to the passing of the bill. This 'unfair' situation may lead to a decrease in the expected gains and an increase the risk of a greater loss from the initiation of the bill, while the non-initiators are allowed to free-ride on the benefits but not carry any of the risks of the investment in legislative works. Thus active legislative behaviour may be harmed by the unanimous cloture, or the equal sharing of gains arising from the bill being passed.

Perhaps Japanese legislative members are free from this anxiety due to hyper-active bureaucrats, which Stockwin and others call 'bureaucratic polity'[47]. The bureaucrats are ready to devote themselves to legislative works for a number of reasons but these reasons are out of the scope of this article. They are (briefly) some incentives designed to mobilize the bureaucrats.[48] If these incentives do not exist in the UK, the adoption of unanimous cloture in the pre-consultation stage may lead to a less active legislative branch. The sitting MPs delegate their powers to their leaders more completely, perhaps because the sitting MPs are aware of these mechanisms and the consequences.


In this essay I submit the argument that the phenomenal choice of strong backbenchers in Japanese parliamentary politics is not cultural but is based on rational calculation. Game theory suggests that granting the power of veto to backbenchers at the pre-consultation stage, which embodies the strong power of zoku MPs, is a rational strategy by the rule makers of the party to win a majority of the seats. Accordingly, in this sense, the claim that Japanese politics is un-Westminster is not warranted. It is certain that Japanese politics is un-British, but it is still a variation of the Westminster style. Furthermore, we cannot deny the possibility that the British system may follow the Japanese contemporary system in the future.

In the course of this discussion, it is seen that the PARC committee serves as a political market place and as a whip-in vehicle. It can manage complex inter-committee logrolling and is thus recognized as an advanced system. The chairmen of the PARC play the Party Whips role. For this function, the existence of the PARC committee is of less importance than the role of its chairmen. Unlike Japanese party politics, British party politics does not have a systematic political dealing place or a vote exchange market.


1. Yamaguchi, J., 2002, Giin Naikakusei no Nihonteki Heigai wo kokuhuku suru tameni, In Oishi, M., Kubo, H.,Sasaki, T., Yamaguchi, J. eds. Shushō Kōsen Wo Kangaeru [Consideration On Direct Election of The Prime Minister], Tokyo: Chuko Shinsho, 94

2. Stockwin, J.A.A., 1999, Governing Japan. 3rd ed. Oxford: Blackwell publishers, 97.

3. Stockwin, J.A.A, infra 2, 97.

4. Peele, G., 2004, British Politics in the 21st Century. 4th ed. Oxford: Blackwell, 269.

5. Norton, P., 2003, Governing Alone, Parliamentary Affairs, 56, 543-559, 543.

6. For example see Inoguchi, T. and Iwai, T., 1987, Zoku giin no kenkyū, [A study of zoku MPs of the LDP], Tokyo: Nihon Keizai Shinbunsha.

7. Inoguchi, T. and Iwai, T., 101.

8. LDP, Liberal Democratic Party and Its Central Office (1993) in Wright, M. 2002, 191.

9. Ramseyer, J.M. and Rosenbluth, F.M., 32.

10. Ramseyer, J.M. and Rosenbluth, F.M., 82.

11. April 1996, press conference at LDP by T Yamazaki. Accessed on 9 Mar 2005.

12. Gamble, A., 2003, 26.

13. Ibid, 26.

14. Neary, I., 2002, 137.

15. According to 'MODERNISATION OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS: A REFORM PROGRAMME' second report of session 2001-02, Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons, 'the United Kingdom is one of the few parliaments which practise this sudden death of legislation within such a short period.' Furthermore, '[T]here is no logical reason for sub-dividing the five-year mandate of a Government with an annual bar.'

16. Mulgan, A.G., calls PARC the locus of zoku MPs.

17. Wright, M., 2002, 191.

18. MP Noda shouts 'Improper procedure!' Nikkei Shimbun, Morning Edition, 26 May, 2005, p. 4.

19. Inoguchi, T. and Iwai, T., 1987, 101

20. LDP, Liberal Democratic Party and Its Central Office (1993) in Wright, M., 2002, 191.

21. Inoguchi, T. and Iwai, T., 1987, 103-104.

22. Ferejohn, J.A., 1986.

23. Weingast, B. and Marshall, W,. 1988.

24. Fiorina, F., 1987.

25. Cox, G.W. and McCubbins, M.D., 1993, 243.

26. Here we are only concerned with the controlling committee and not the parent chamber. The controlling committee does not mean controlling the parent chamber in both the Japan and UK contexts due to a lack of ex post veto as shown above, and the controlling parent chamber should be addressed by other measures such as the whip voting system. This will be addressed later.

27. Cox, G.W. and McCubbins, M.D., 1993, 248-249.

28. Ibid, 248.

29. The simplest form of omnibus bill can be easily conducted in one PARC committee. Suppose that the main purpose of a bill is concerning the promotion of entrepreneurship but it also has a small effect on labour issues, it is sufficient for the bill to be examined in the PARC committee within entrepreneurship jurisdiction. The more overlapping omnibus bills, such as a financial reform bill with a huge budget injection, are often examined in the combined PARC committees.

30. Jackson, J.E., Constituencies and Leaders in Congress: The Effects on Senate Voting Behaviour. 1974 Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 6. He states 'The party leaders' functions are to act as information clearing houses and vote brokers.'

31. For example see Cowley,P. and Stuart, P. 2003, 203-204.

32. Ramseyer, J.M. and Rosenbluth, F.M., 1993, 78.

33. In order that the threat is realised as a threat to the counterpart, the threatened event is reasonably believed to be triggered by a party which makes use of the triggering power as a threat. If triggering the event is reasonably believed by the counterpart to heavily damage the interests of the triggering party, the threat may not work as a threat for the counterpart.

34. Interviewed by Cowley on 27 June 2000. Cowley, P., 2001, 90.

35. Gilligan, T. W. and Krehbiel K,. 1995, 42.

36. Fiorina, M., 1981, 215.

37. Reed, S.R. and Thies, M.F., 2001, 391-392. Neary, I.,67. He states 'another candidate from the same party was as much, if not more, of a threat to someone's chances of re-election as were the opposition parties.'

38. Ramseyer, J.M. and Rosenbluth, F.M.,82.

39. Weingast, B. and Marshall, W.,1988.

40. Nagatacho, Tokyo is where the Japanese parliament is located.

41. Weir, S. and Beetham, D., 374. Guardian, 9 Juky 1992.

42. Cowley, P., 2002, 150.

43. Peele, P., British Politics in the 21st Century. 4th ed. Oxford; Blackwell, 224.

44. Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons First Report, HC 1222, issued on 3 November 2003.

45. The Modernisation Committee says the Nomination Committee member should be selected based on seniority rather than the interest of party whips.

46. This argument is parallel with the argument developed in law and economics on corporate law. See Easterbrook, F.H. and Fischel, D.R., 1991, 117-119.

47. Stockwin, J.A.A., 1999, Governing Japan. 3rd ed. Oxford: Blackwell, 96.

48. For example see Ramseyer, J.M. and Rosenbluth, F.M, 1993.


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About the author

Masatsugu Yoshioka received his LLB (Hōgakushi) from the University of Tokyo, LLM from Harvard University and MSt from the University of Oxford. He is the former special assistant to the Prime Minister of Japan and is a law government official at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry of Japan and in charge of regional economic policy. The author expresses his gratitude to Dr. Neary of the Nissan Institute, University of Oxford, and Dr. Ogura of Columbia University for their comments and encouragements and Mr. Gaysford for general comments and grammatical checks.

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