37. Intelligence Note From the Deputy Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (Denney) to Secretary of State Rogers 1

No. 881


  • JAPAN: Conservative Victory in General Election

The landslide victory of the Liberal Democratic Party in Japan’s December 27 general election went well beyond the most optimistic forecasts. Together with a strong decline in socialist strength, it will undercut the opposition’s “1970” campaign against the US-Japan Security Treaty and will help Prime Minister Sato’s efforts to develop a clear popular consensus favoring the alliance with the US as the best current answer to Japan’s security needs.

Effect on Sato and his Policies. Sato’s position in the LDP has been greatly strengthened: He can now be reasonably certain of a fourth two-year term as LDP president next fall, thus promising continued leadership that is both stable and basically sympathetic to the US. He will be freer to take initiatives on sensitive issues (e.g., signing the NPT and controlling student violence) than would have been the case if the LDP increases had been less spectacular (the LDP, expecting to do little more than hold its own, actually picked up 28 seats while the Socialists lost 44.)

In foreign policy, Sato is likely to fulfill a campaign pledge by trying to open Warsaw-style talks with Peking, not so much in serious expectation of any early Chinese response as to deprive the opposition parties and his rivals in the LDP of the China issue. He may also step up pressure on the Soviets for the return of the four Japanese-claimed [Page 117] islands in the southern Kuriles, thus contrasting Soviet intransigence with US reasonableness on Okinawa and helping line up Japanese national feeling behind the alliance with the US.

Role of Nationalism. Perhaps the most significant aspect of the election was the nationalist feeling demonstrated by the electorate and its rejection of ideological bickering and fuzzy idealism. The victorious parties—the LDP, Komeito and Japan Communist Party—clearly appealed to nationalism. On the other hand, the Socialist Party—saddled with its traditional platform of unarmed neutrality as well as a public image of gratuitous involvement in Sino-Soviet ideological disputes and an almost total lack of internal discipline—suffered a stunning defeat. The poor showing of the Democratic Socialist Party (a gain of one seat and loss to the Komeito of its psychological vantage point as the second largest opposition party) was largely caused by its failure to project a clear and emotionally appealing image to the electorate. The Communist Party’s success in recent years in shedding the image of a foreign agent and in assuming a nationalist garb was an important factor in its gains (it added 10 seats for a total of 14). Its influence on national policy however, will remain minimal.

Impact of the Elections. Even though the LDP majority has increased and the other opposition parties have gained at the expense of the Socialists, the impact on politics, especially in the Diet, will be mostly psychological. LDP morale will be boosted by its spectacular gains, which reverse a long but gradual decline. Its popular vote dropped slightly but far less than the 2.8% average loss in the last six general elections. The new cabinet which Sato will form in early January will probably be as broadly representative of LDP factions as the present cabinet. Even though the Socialists remain the largest opposition party in the Diet, their quixotic hope to lead the opposition against the Security Treaty and to end the long rule of the Conservatives has been shattered. How they iron out their problems will not be known until the party convention in March but it is likely that the present leadership will be replaced. The greatly strengthened Komeito (to 47 seats from 25) is likely to concentrate on popular issues and will probably extend its campaign to reduce the US military presence in Japan to include US forces in Okinawa.

[Page 118]

The Election Results:

Party Seats won Seats won* in 1967 % popular vote % popular votein 1967
LDP 300* 285* 47.63% 48.80%
JSP 90 140 21.44 27.89
Komeito 47 25 10.91 5.38
DSP 32* 31* 7.74 7.40
JCP 14 4 6.81 4.76
Independent 3 1 5.30 5.55
Minor Parties .17 .22
* Including independent candidates who joined the party after election.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 14 JAPAN. Limited Official Use. On December 31 Kissinger sent Nixon an evaluation of the Japanese election, based upon an analysis he received from Lindsey Grant of the NSC Operations Staff. The memorandum stated that the vote was an endorsement of Sato and the American alliance and noted; “It should be easier for Sato to deliver on the textile issue.” It concluded, “if we move imaginatively, we can now build a partnership with Japan that could shape Pacific relations for a decade.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 534, Country Files, Far East, Japan, Vol. II, 10/69 to 6/70)