Who Answers for the Government? Institutional Reform and Ministerial Accountability in Japan
54 Pages Posted: 10 Mar 2020
Date Written: February 20, 2020
A key feature of parliamentary democracy is government accountability vis-à-vis the legislature, but the question of who speaks for the government — cabinet ministers or unelected bureaucrats, and the institutional underpinnings of this decision — has received scant attention. We investigate this question with the case of Japan, using new data covering millions of committee speeches from 1947 to 2016. We document how a party-strengthening electoral system reform in 1994 led to a shift in patterns of behavior related to government accountability: speeches by bureaucrats decreased, speeches by ministers increased, and discursive accountability between ministers and opposition legislators increased. Subsequent administrative reforms expanding junior ministerial roles and placing explicit limits on bureaucratic participation reinforced the effects. These findings shed new light on the institutional underpinnings of ministerial accountability in general, as well as its progressive development in Japan.
Keywords: ministerial accountability, legislative speech, committees, electoral system reform, Japan
JEL Classification: D02, D71, D72 D73
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