UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Cabinet responsibility, the separation-of-powers and the makers and breakers of cabinets in Japanese politics, 1890-1940 Steven, Robert P. G.


According to parliamentary theory, an executive that is made and unmade by the Lower House of the legislature alone is responsible to that House. But an executive whose existence is not solely dependent on the legislature is not responsible to the legislature. In such systems, usually the main branches of government have specific functions, possess limited rights of veto over one another, and have independent existences. They are known as separation-of-powers systems. The purpose of the thesis is to discover whether the prewar Japanese polity approximated more closely to a parliamentary system or a separation-of-powers system. Its method is to identify all the political institutions which made and unmade the executive in 1890-1940. When institutions are not easily identifiable, for example, when a cabinet resigned because of public rioting, the influences responsible for Cabinet changes are translated into politico-institutional forces. Because there was always a struggle over the selection of Prime Ministers and then over Cabinet seats, the selection of Prime Ministers is examined separately from the formation of cabinets. A classification of the reasons for Cabinet composition and its rise and fall is used to determine whether institutional relationships are better understood in terms of parliamentary or separation-of-powers theory. The results of the investigation reveal that: i) Each of the prewar political institutions had a separate identifiable function and tried to have the executive pursue the policies it desired in matters related to its function. ii) Each institution possessed a limited veto power over each of the others and used this power to ensure that the Cabinet included representatives from it. The Cabinet regularly consisted of representatives from most institutions: the two Houses of the Diet, the Army, the Wavy, and the Civil Service. iii) Each institution had an existence independent of each of the others, and only the Cabinet never had an independent power base. Usually at least three institutions had to support a new Prime Minister before he could assume office, and usually two had to conspire to force his resignation. Because only rarely could any single institution on its own raise or pull down an entire ministry, the existence of the Cabinet was separate from each individual institution and the Cabinet was not responsible to any. Separation-of-powers theory alone emphasises the lack of the executive's total dependence on the legislature, or on any other institution for that matter. The need for at least three institutions to raise and two to pull down a ministry indicates that the Cabinet never had a completely independent existence. Not having its own separate power base, it was the joint creation of other institutions. Though its existence was separate from each individual institution, its rise and fall was not independent of combinations of other institutions. The prewar Japanese polity, however, bore only a slight similarity to a parliamentary system, in which the executive is entirely dependent on the Lower House of the legislature. Because only very rarely could the Lower House of the legislature on its own pull down an entire ministry, only occasionally were parliamentary type forces present, and the polity functioned regularly as a separation-of-powers system.

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