Friday, September 04, 2020

Not-insane ways of selecting parliamentary leaders


Shinzo Abe, the longest serving prime minister in Japan's parliamentary history, announced his retirement a couple of weeks ago.  On September 16, his successor will move into the prime minister's office.

Canadian political scientists tend to focus on the "white commonwealth" when comparing parliamentary democracies. But Japan is an interesting example of the many parliamentary states beyond the British-origins group. And its method of leadership selection is noteworthy. 

Prime ministers in Japan tend to have short terms, although the Liberal Democratic Party has dominated parliament since 1955. The real struggle is between the strong and deeply rooted regional and ideological factions within the LDP -- and the results of their contests are largely determined by the (currently 388) sitting MPs of that party, who historically are quite willing to remove one PM and install another.

Japan Times lays out how the rules work (In Japan, "party president" equates to "party leader"):

LDP party presidential elections are not policy games, they are numbers games. At the end of the day, the Japanese prime minister is the person that can win a “majority of the majority,” meaning the person’s party wins the majority of seats in the legislature, and the person wins the majority of votes within the party.
Underwriting those intra-party politics are LDP factions. As I have described before in The Japan Times, it is not unusual for a political party to have cliques, blocs, or other similar groups, but in the LDP, these are simply institutionalized with formal membership and structure.

These blocs are formed of duly elected MPs fully accountable for their choices. They represent real regional and ideological interests within the nation's voters. Who better to select and hold accountable a leader? [Actually, it's much the same process in Australia, to get back to BritWorld]

Compare that with the recent party leadership "race" in Canada. As usual, it consumed most of a year, cost millions of dollars, and was determined by the votes of tens of thousands of recent membership purchasers who bear neither responsibility nor accountability for the choice they have made. Indeed most of those who have given the Conservative Party a new leader were not party members six months ago and will not be party members six months from now. In a story on the Japanese leadership change, CBC calls the Canadian system "open and democratic." That's Canada for you. 

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