Snap election may spell end of the old guard

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 August, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 August, 2005, 12:00am

Many of its members would no doubt disagree, but it is deeply ironic that in the year that marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of Japan's Liberal Democratic Party, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi may have hammered the final nail in the coffin of the party's old guard.

Calling a snap election may have been a risk, but by refusing to back LDP members who didn't support his postal privatisation plans he will be able to mould the party his way.

A merger of the Liberal Party and the Democratic Party in 1955, it beat the Japan Socialist Party in elections the same year. In opposition, both had been deeply conservative and that attitude was brought into government, partly at the behest of the US government.

The LDP strengthened its political grip through the years of Japan's miraculous economic recovery, although it experienced some serious political scandals.

By 1993, however, with Japan's once-mighty economy in trouble the LDP was reeling and fared so badly in that year's election that the opposition parties were able to band together as the left-leaning Japan Renewal Party. But within a year, the new allies were falling out and members were defecting to the LDP.

After just 18 months in opposition, the LDP returned to government as junior member in the coalition with the Japan Socialist Party. Today, there are just a handful of survivors from the socialist party still in the Diet.