Russia v. Japan
May 8, 2000
Summary of Powers
Within the constitution of a nation, powers are delegated to certain institutions of that nation?s government. Although in many cases similar, nations can vary drastically when defining the organizational structure from which they operate. Some democratic constitutions delegate more power to the executive branch while in other nations more power is given to the legislature. This point can be illustrated when the same branch of a nation?s government is compared with that of another. An example of differing executive powers can be viewed between the Russian Federation and Japan.
Japan?s democracy was developed by General Macarthur alongside U.S. occupation authorities after WWII. It is that of a typical parliamentary system, similar in many ways to those of Europe. The prime minister is elected by the members of the Diet, or parliament, and serves until he or she losses the confidence of the House of Representatives or until the four year term is up (Palmer 264).
The Russian democracy came about a half a century down the road. When communism ultimately fell in the Soviet Union, a popular figure under Gorbachev came into power under a fresh, democratic framework. His name was Boris Yeltsin. He put together a new constitution, based on the Constitution of France, that gave many formal powers to the executive branch. It allows for a dual executive; a president and a prime minister. The president is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces and is empowered to rule by decree in a state of emergency (Palmer 334). He is also tied into the bureaucracy with the power to nominate and remove other bureaucrats and department heads from office. He nominates a prime minister and must approve the Cabinet.
From 1955 to 1993, Japan?s legislature, or House of Representatives, was dominated by the Liberal Democratic Party. This meant that the president of the party was guaranteed to become prime minister. That element should have ensured the office of prime minister to be one of the
strongest of that of the First World. Instead, it was among the weakest (Palmer 264).
The function of Japan?s prime minister is very similar to that of Russia?s. However, the power of the executive branch in Russia resides in the office of the president. He nominates the prime minister and must approve the members of the cabinet (Palmer 334). The president, under the Yeltsin Constitution, has direct control over the major processes of government. Not a lot gets done without the president?s approval (Palmer 335).
In contrast to Russia?s executive branch, Japan?s prime ministers during this period spent most of their energy trying to keep the consensus between rival factions within the ruling party. Instead of having full control, with everything having to meet his approval, the main function of the Japanese prime minister is to compromise or to block policy initiatives coming from different administrative agencies or powerful business interests. Most of these initiatives come from Japan, Inc, an alliance
between political, business, and administrative leaders who share one common goal, economic growth (Palmer 265). The success of a prime minister was based on his ability to broker between the different party factions, as opposed to the Russian president who develops and dictates policies.
In the executive branch of both countries, there is a prime minister who resides over the Cabinet where the top ministries formulate and discuss policy. In Russia, as opposed to Japan, the existence of a president undermines the prime minister. The Cabinet reports directly to that office and everything must meet his approval (Palmer 335). In contrast, Japan?s prime minister, as well as top Cabinet members, must be in support if a policy is going to be put into effect (Palmer 265). Therefore, although there is no powerful presidential hand helping things along in Japan, the final word still sits with the prime minister and the Cabinet.
It could be said that Japan lacks strong, decisive leadership, and that Russia?s executive branch, with the president as the psychological leader of the people, is superior. Yet it is Russia?s economy that is deteriorating. In
addition, despite that powerful office, Russia still needs the consensus it doesn?t have to reform policy.
In conclusion, despite the weakening of Japan?s executive branch over the four decades of a single ruling party, the economy still prospered. Russia?s democracy, on the other hand, might need some time to adapt to the new system. Its president, being the catalyst of Russian politics, has the power to get a lot done. Only time will tell if it?s system will hold.
Independence (Itasca, Ill.: F.E. Peacock, 1997)