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Central­‐Local Relations and Change in Japan’s Prefectural Elections

Hong, Jean Xiaojun

Despite widespread calls for political change stemming from public dissatisfaction over a plethora of evidence of backdoor dealings and how politics has been run, intent to thoroughly reform the political system is not evident among parties. In this paper, I investigate why this is so among local parties. I argue that one largely overlooked reason is the restrictions on local governments in the form of central local relations. Because local governments depend on the center for funds and administrative support to implement many policies and carry out public works projects, they cannot afford to endanger their relations with the central government and are thus cautious when responding to public demands for administrative reform. They are also circumscribed by what local governments can carry out given their limited administrative and financial powers. In the first part of this paper, I look at the intent of parties to affect change by examining local party manifestos from the LDP and the DPJ across 23 prefectures. Local party manifestos began to be used in 2003 and has been increasingly in elections ever since. My inquiry is made based on an analysis of local party manifesto content. Policy proposals are categorized into various groups, and the compositions of manifestos are compared across parties. I establish that local parties look beyond voters’ preferences and their own ideological positions when proposing policies. Specifically, central‐local relations are also taken into account. In the second part, I investigate how the contents of LDP local party manifestos vary with the strength of central­-local relations. First, I compare the parties of local politicians in prefectural assemblies with the parties of national politicians in their respective Lower House election districts to determine the degree of matching between parties of local and national politicians. Next, I draw from the analysis of local party manifestos in the previous section and examine it in view of the degree of congruity between parties of local and national politicians. Results indicate that prefectures with closer central-local relations (as approximated by the degree of matching between parties of local prefectural assembly politicians and Lower House politicians) have a lower proportion of policies that deal with administrative and political reform. This confirms my hypothesis that local governments in prefectures with stronger central-­local ties are more restrained than local governments in prefectures with weaker ties, and therefore are less likely to propose policies advocating administrative reform.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Political Science
Thesis Advisors
Shimizu, Kay
M.A., Columbia University
Published Here
August 26, 2013