Party Cabinet (政党内閣)

A party cabinet is a cabinet organized on the basis of political parties with seats in the parliament. It's also called a parliamentary cabinet system, where the cabinet exercises political power with parliamentary confidence.

Today, countries which practice a parliamentary democracy, or an indirect democracy, have a party cabinet. However, the cabinet of a country without a parliamentary cabinet system, for example that of the United States of America, is not usually referred to as a party cabinet, even though the country has a party system. Also, a one-party dictatorship system, which is seen in socialist, communist, and fascist countries and others, isn't called a party cabinet either, even though a political party is in control of the government.

Party cabinets in the world

The United Kingdom

The party cabinet system witnessed a remarkable development in England in the latter half of the seventeenth century. The Whigs and the Tories in the British Parliament contested with each other for political power, which later shifted into the two-party system comprising the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party. Around 1900, when the parliamentary cabinet system became customary, the governmental management by party cabinets was firmly established.


In Japan, after the Meiji Restration, Yukichi FUKUZAWA and other intellecturals from the Mita-ha (Mita faction, named after the place where current Keio University exists) started aruguing in the 1870s that Japan should adopt a party cabinet system, while the establishment of a constitutional government and a parliament system came up for dabate across the county. Inside the government, Sangi (Councilor) Shigenobu OKUMA submitted a written opinion on the issue in March 1881. In the document, Okuma expressed his views that Japan should soon establish a parliamentary government on the British model, and he called for a party-cabinet-run government. On the other hand, Tomomi IWAKURA, Minister of the Right, also submitted his written opinion in July 1881. There, Iwakura asked for the adoption of a constitutional monarchy system on the Prussian model. Most of the key Cabinet members supported Iwakura's proposal. Eventually, the Prussian-style constitutional monarchy, not the parliamentary cabinet system, was adopted in the Constitution of the Empire of Japan.

In enforcing the Constitution, the then Prime Minister Kiyotaka KURODA and others insisted that the government should execute its policies without being influenced by political parties, which was called Chozen shugi (Transcendentalism). It meant that the party cabinet system was disapproved. However, under the circumstances where the Constitution approved of parliament's power to decide a national budget and also to legislate, practically, it was difficult to ignore the opinions of the majority party while running the government. Such being the case, in order to have a stable administration, the government needed to cooperate with the majority party and other parties with many seats in the parliament.

Thus, Hirobumi ITO, in his second administration, formed a coalition government with the Liberal Party (自由党 Jiyuto), the leading party in the House of Representatives. In 1898, receiving strong support from Ito, the first Okuma Cabinet (so-called the 'Waihan Cabinet') was established with the Kenseito (憲政党) as its base. It was the first party cabinet in Japan, all of whose ministers belonged to the Kenseito except for the Ministers of the Army and the Navy. In 1900 the Rikken seiyukai (立憲政友会 Friends of Constitutional Government, a political party) was formed with members of the Kenseito former Liberal Party faction as its base and Ito as its leader; the fourth Ito Cabinet was inaugurated on the basis of the Rikken seiyukai.

After that, in the Taisho period, political parties extended their power in a climate of Taisho Democracy (a series of liberal movements in the Taisho period). After the first Constitution protection movement in 1912, Takashi HARA of the Rikken seiyukai formed his Cabinet in September 1918. Most of the cabinet members belonged to a political party. It was an epoch-making party cabinet in the regard that Hara was the first prime minister who was an incumbent member of the House of Representative.

The party cabinet system had taken root as "the regular procedures of constitutional government" (憲政の常道 Kensei no jodo), which was especially true around the period when six different party cabinets appeared successively starting from the Takaaki KATO's Goken-sanpa Cabinet (護憲三派内閣 three-party coalition government consisting of the Rikken Seiyukai, the Kenseikai, and the Kakushin Club) formed in 1925 following a popular election. In the background of this lay Kinmochi SAIONJI's intention, who was the only survivor of the Genro (elder statesman). Saionji considered the British constitutional government was ideal, and relatively liked the party cabinet system. However, the parliamentary cabinet system wasn't stable without foundation in the Constitution.

Under the party-cabinet administrations, powers such as the Navy, the Army, the Sumitsu-in (Privy Council), or the bureaucracy still had big influence in politics and intervened in the government. As the confrontation between political parties intensified, non-ruling parties often worked together with those influential powers and attacked the ruling party.

Popular election took place and the number of voters soared, and thus the amount of political funds increased enormously. This brought more political corruption cases related to election campaign fund-raising. Normally, a change of government between political parties should happen through a general election, where the voice of the people is heard. However, the basic procedure of an administration change in those days was as follows. First, non-ruling parties tried to topple the Cabinet by cooperating with powers such as the bureaucracy, the military, or the Sumitsu-in (Privy Counsil), and then the party which succeeded in overthrowing the government formed a new cabinet while it still remained a minority in the parliament. Next, taking advantage of being the party in power, the minority party won a general election and took great leap forward to become the leading party. Party cabinet continued into the 1930s, while still being unable to bring the difficult problem - confrontation between political parties - under control. Besides, the party cabinet administrations at that time failed to effectively deal with a series of crises in and out of Japan such as increasing problems in China, the Showa Financial Crisis, the economic crisis caused by the Great Depression, and Japanese military's protest against the global tendency toward disarmament. Consequently, there was increasing disaffection with party government among the Navy, the Army, the bureaucracy, nationalist organizations, etc. In May 1932, young Naval officers assassinated Prime Minister Tsuyoshi INUKAI (the May 15th Incident), which put to an end to party cabinets.

It was not until after the Second World War, which ended in 1945, when the next party government appeared in Japan.

[Original Japanese]