Japan is a liberal, multi-party democracy with regular free and fair elections. The prime minister is the majority leader in the country’s legislative body and head of government. The once powerful emperor with formerly far-reaching powers nowadays has a purely ceremonial role as head of state. Elections for parliament are held every four years for the lower chamber, the House of Representatives, and every six years for the upper chamber, the House of Councillors.
Elections are widely free; however, political analysts repeatedly criticise an unbalanced distribution of voter representation from rural and urban areas. Seats in the upper house are not represented according to population density, but to the number of prefectures. Hence, rural votes are proportionally overrepresented
compared to the densely populated urban centres. The Supreme Court acknowledged the problems in voter disparity, yet little has been done to reform the system.
The last elections for the House of Councillors took place in July 2013. Half of its 242 members are renewed every three years in staggered elections. The 2013 election was the biggest election victory for Japanese president Shinzo Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which by the time of the polls had already gained control over the lower house. The LDP now has far-reaching powers with regard to Japan’s legislation. Abe has promised to embark on comprehensive economic reforms and infrastructure investments. However; many neighbouring countries including China and South Korea fear the strengthened role of Abe’s government specifically with regard to the ongoing territorial conflicts in the South China Sea.