Types of Local Governments’ Intervention to National Politics/Central-Local Cooperation and Antagonism by Political Parties and Government

  • Ken Victor Leonard HijinoEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-31816-5_3266-1



Coordination over policy that is shared or overlapping across levels of government; administrative and partisan channels of interaction/coordination between central and local government.


An important element of intergovernmental relations (IGR) in modern democracies are the various channels by which different levels of government coordinate over policy that is shared or overlapping across levels. The need for greater coordination, vertically between local, national, and supranational governments, has been driven by trends affecting most states. These include an expanding welfare state, the standardization of public services across regions, increasingly interdependent and complex policy areas which cannot be exclusively dealt with by one level alone, and demands for greater policy autonomy and ownership from local governments (Bolleyer 2009; Loughlin 2007; Bolleyer et al. 2014).

A range of formal/informal and administrative/partisan channels exists by which local governments engage with the national policy-making process. They include, for example, secondary chambers in national legislature which directly represent local governments and give them veto powers over national laws affecting local governments (such as the German Bundesrat); regular meetings of executives and bureaucrats from different levels of government (such as the Canadian First Minister’s conferences); mechanisms to resolve disputes across government levels (such as the UK Joint Ministerial Committee); or procedures in which local governments provide feedback and express preferences over national policy (such as the Swedish remiss system). Various informal (nonstatutory), personal interactions between individual actors at different levels of government can also play a significant coordinative role.

In addition to these administrative channels, local actors resort to partisan routes to exert influence in the national arena. These can be formal intraparty channels and arenas which link local politicians and party organizations to the national level of the party. In addition, less formal interactions through personal connections between national and local party officials can lead to coordination of decisions over policy decisions at both levels.

This entry, then, briefly describes and explains the recent evolution of such IGR dynamics in Japan. Specifically, it looks at the various routes by which Japanese local governments participate in the national political arena. It will explain how local governments possess both administrative and partisan channels to influence national policymaking in Japan. It argues that decentralization and increased multilevel partisan incongruence (where different parties control different levels of government) in recent decades have led to more conflictual relations between central and local governments. This trend has been accompanied with the establishment of new formal mechanisms of IGR and an expanded role for more traditional channels and fora linking the two levels.

Traditional Administrative and Partisan Routes of IGR in Japan

Japan’s modern constitution (Articles 92–95) guarantees local autonomy and the establishment of local government authorities with directly elected executives and legislatures that exercise administrative and legislative power within the scope of national law. The Local Autonomy Act, adopted simultaneously with the Constitution in 1947, further specifies the basic organization and operation of these local governments. The law specifies two tiers of local authorities – prefectural and municipal governments, of which in 2017 there were 47 and 1,718 respectively.

The Constitution and Local Autonomy Act stipulate a number of mechanisms by which local governments may express their preferences over and indirectly influence national policymaking. The following are what can be considered the more traditional mechanisms of local participation in national policy-making, which have been complemented by new mechanism which emerged around the mid-1990s.

First, Article 95 of the constitution requires the central government to conduct a local referendum if it seeks to enact special laws applicable only to a specific local government. This provision gives local communities an opportunity to reject national policy which affects them exclusively. Such special laws requiring local referendums, however, have not been enacted since 1952.

Second, Article 99 of the Local Government Act grants Japanese local legislatures to pass “written opinions” (ikensho) on matters relating to the public good of local government. WOs are passed by prefectural and municipal legislatures, and are addressed and submitted to the Diet (usually to the Lower House and/or Upper House chairman) and/or the executive (usually to specific ministries and ministers). Oftentimes these written opinions express local support or opposition to national decisions that are being planned or have been legislated. Although not legally binding, these WOs tend to be reported in the media and signal to the general public the reservations or support a local legislature may have for national policy (Hijino 2017).

Third, Article 16 of the Constitution stipulates the right to petition for all individuals and legal entities, including local governments. Diet Act no. 77 grants local governments the right to formally appeal to national legislature and ministries (Narita 1979, 5). These petitions, submitted by local government chief executives or chairpersons of local assemblies, are screened by relevant legislative committees in Diet or within ministries, and for those selected, the government must report on how it processed the appeals. There is no legal requirement for public bodies to act upon the contents of these petitions, however (Harada 2010, 127).

Fourth, there are a number of ad hoc channels by which local governments and their representatives are asked to provide comment over national policy matters. Certain laws (such as city planning or pollution controls) have included provisions which oblige central government ministries to conduct hearings of affected local governments before policy implementation. Local government representatives are also invited to provide testimony and comment in national advisory councils (such as the Local Government System Research Council) relating to local government issues as experts or affected parties (Narita 1979).

Besides these channels of IGR, various partisan channels have linked national and local governments, providing a more influential route for local preferences to be reflected in national policy-making.

Muramatsu (1988) indicates how local actors drew out benefits from the center by participating in a bottom-up and inclusive policy-making process. This bottom-up dynamic involved a “rugby scrum” linking local politicians, local governments, local Diet members, and national-level bureaucrats (Muramatsu 2010). Policy demands were channeled upward to the ruling party and coordinated among ministries and various sectional interest groups. Local governments, through local politicians representing these areas, competed among each other in “horizontal political competition” to capture a greater share of expanding governmental spending to various regions (Muramatsu 1988).

Local politics influenced national policy not only through such vertical linkages within the ruling party at national and local level, but also in providing an arena for opposition parties to challenge the center. During the mid-1960s and 1970s, local governments controlled by leftist governors and mayors challenged local and national conservatives on a platform questioning unregulated growth (Flanagan et al. 1980). These Socialist and/or Communist-backed governors implemented local ordinances expanding welfare services and enforcing pollution regulations which superseded or even contravened national laws and regulations. Many of these initiatives were then copied by other local governments or were co-opted into national standards. Local opposition thus served to alter national policy by representing policy preferences which could not emerge nationally.

These partisan channels were particularly important through much of the post-war period, enabling local preferences to shape national policy even though the state was administratively and fiscally centralized. A notable feature which enabled such strong bottom-up influence from local level into national policy-making was the highly decentralized, but vertically integrated nature of the ruling party (Fukui and Fukai 1996) as well as the fact that the same party (the Liberal Democratic Party, LDP) dominated many of the national and local legislatures in the post-war period, especially in rural areas (Scheiner 2006). The LDP’s national network provided formal coordinative arenas over policy (such as the prefectural policy research councils) as well as informal vertical linkages connecting national and local politicians. These linkages helped transmit local demands into national policy, both programmatic and particularistic.

Evolving Channels of IGR Since the 1990s

These key features shaping IGR in Japan were altered considerably since the late 1990s, however. Hijino (2017) identifies several trends leading to a decoupling of traditional multilevel linkages during this period. Decentralization reforms since 2000 expanded local autonomy and an overall reduction in central government grants and subsidies to local governments (prominently between 2000 and 2006) reduced fiscal links to the center. Electoral system reforms (1994) at national level and municipal mergers (2000–2003) weakened vertical intraparty linkage between national and local politicians. And an overall increase in electoral volatility nationally as well as the rise of independent governors since the mid-1990s have led to more partisan incongruence between national and local levels of government.

As local government autonomy expanded and partisan links weakened across levels, various new channels of formal IGR have emerged to coordinate between levels.

First, as part of the Omnibus Decentralization Act implemented in 2000, a Central and Local Government Dispute Management Council was established to arbitrate between national and local governments, along with rules of how local governments can sue the central government over interference (Local Government Law Article 250:7–20, 251:5). The system was established as a way to protect local government autonomy from unwanted encroachment and interference from central government ministries. Since its implementation, only three local governments (Yokohama city, Niigata prefecture, and Okinawa prefecture) have sought dispute arbitration through this system, although in two of these cases the committee rejected the request for arbitration.

Second, an arena of discussions between central and local government representatives was established between 2004 and 2006 on an ad hoc basis to negotiate over the highly contested content of fiscal decentralization policy. Following this initial experiment, local government representative (led by the National Governors Association) sought to institutionalize the “forum of discussions between central government and regions.” In 2011, the Democratic Party of Japan administration passed a law to institutionalize these meetings. The committee consists of the cabinet chief secretary and ministers, but not the prime minister, and the representatives of the six local government organizations. The six organizations are national associations representing governors, city mayors, town and village mayors, as well as prefectural, city, and town/village assemblies. Topics have covered a range of topics from tax and welfare, local economic revitalization and finances, as well as decentralization measures.

Evaluations of how effectively local governments have been able to collectively bargain for their interests in this forum remain divided. The earlier forums, having no legal basis and thus unable to bind policy decisions, became merely an informal place for local governments to express preferences, rather than a place where decisions took place (Kanai 2008). Even after being regularized and institutionalized since 2011, the outcomes of discussions in these fora do not bind central government behavior. Yet there are signs that some local government demands were reflected in eventual policy in the round of meetings in 2011 (Oosaka 2012). In addition, there are concerns as to whether the diverse interests between wealthier urban local governments and smaller, poorer rural local governments among other divisions can be effectively represented by these national umbrella organizations.

Third, there has been a further expansion of channels in which local governments can express opinions on national policy. The addition of Article 263:3–2 in the revision of Local Government Law in 1993 provides the right to the six national local government associations to collectively express opinions to the cabinet or Diet on matters affecting local government. This channel was further strengthened in 2000 with an addition of a clause requiring the central government to provide relevant information prior to formulating laws or cabinet orders which affect local governments. Likewise in 2000, Article 17.4 was added to the Local Allocation Tax Law giving local governments right to provide opinion on how local grants are calculated. Thus far the local government national organizations have submitted comments through the Article 263:3–2 mechanism to the central government only twice.

Fourth, the collective bargaining role of the National Governor’s Association changed considerably since the mid-1990s. NGA meetings were traditionally politically neutral and ceremonial, but these became more active in negotiations over fiscal decentralization reforms under the Koizumi administration (2000–2006). For example, the NGA meeting hosted by Gifu prefecture in 2003 was unofficially but popularly called “the NGA which fights.” During this meeting, prepared statements were replaced by free debates and the rules for selecting the NGA chairman was changed from discussion to majority vote. NGA meetings increased in frequency under the Gifu governor who became the first NGA chairman to be selected under the new election procedure. The central government also began since 2003 to host annual “government-hosted NGA meeting,” regularizing these collective discussions with governors.

The NGA also has been more active in publically pressuring the central government over various national policy decisions. The NGA has increasingly passed resolutions and made public appeals (many of them labeled “emergency” appeals or demands) against national policy since 2000 (Hijino 2017). The association for governors also stepped away from maintaining strict partisan neutrality in the 2005 general election by assessing and ranking party platform promises relating to decentralization and local government. The NGA has continued with this practice of evaluating party manifestos.

Fifth, although not intended as a mechanism for local governments to engage in national policy, the emergence of local referendums based on bylaws since the mid-1990s have been used to signal local preferences on national projects. Nonbinding local referendums on the siting and usage of nuclear power plant and military base facilities have been implemented by various municipalities since the first such referendum occurred in 1996 (Hitomi 2008) (Table 1).
Table 1

List of formal IGR channels by which local governments engage in national arena in Japan

IGR channel

Relevant law

Year law was implemented

Local referendums for national laws affecting only specific local governments

Constitution, Article 95


Right of local legislatures to submit written opinions

Local Government Law, Article 99


Right to petition

Constitution, Article 16


Ad hoc laws obliging consultation with local representatives



Participation in government committees



National/local Dispute Resolution Committee

Local Government Law, Article 250:7–20, 251:5


Forum of Discussion between national and local governments

Law concerning the Forum of Discussion between national and local governments


Local government national organizations’ right to submit opinions

Local Government Law, Article 263:3–5

1993 (expanded in 2000)

Right to submit opinions on local grant calculations

Local Allocation Tax Law, Article 17.4


Local referendums based on bylaws

Various local bylaws


Compiled by author

Finally, not only have these new and expanded forms of IGR emerged since the 1990s, but there is also evidence of more active use of traditional forms of IGR. Hijino (2016) traces an increase in the passing of written opinions by local prefectural assemblies since the mid-1990s, as local politicians (both from the ruling and opposition parties) opposed various top-down national policies seen to damage local interests. In particular, there was a surge of such written opinions during the administration of the Democratic Party of Japan, which resulted in widespread partisan incongruence between national and local levels between 2009 and 2012. Even under congruent conditions, local party organizations, legislatures, and governors have challenged major national policy projects to defend territorial interests through a variety of channels. This has taken place through administrative routes such as written opinions, but also by diverging from and campaigning against national policy platforms (Hijino 2016, 2017).

Conclusion: The Dynamics of Decentralization, Partisan Incongruence, and IGR

Although the effectiveness of these new institutionalized channels for securing local government interests are ambiguous, these developments in IGR can be interpreted as a reaction to growing tensions between national and local governments since the 1990s. From below, local governments have reacted to undesired national policy (such as the reduction in redistributive grants through fiscal decentralization) by politicizing its national associations. They have also called for greater participation in national policy, particularly in collective multilateral fora, rather than through bilateral channels. From above, central governments have been trying to contain this tension by setting up new IGR channels and institutionalized fora. These mechanisms are based on the decentralization principle of “discussion on equal footing,” but fall short of providing actual vetoing power to local governments over national policy.

Finally, it is notable that this expansion of more institutionalized and multilateral fora of IGR in Japan echo some comparative findings in countries like the United Kingdom and Italy which have similarly undergone decentralization since the 1990s.

In the United Kingdom, devolution in 1999 moderately heightened intergovernmental and intraparty tensions between the central government and the devolved regions of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Under initial conditions of multilevel partisan congruence, coordination was achieved primarily through informal intraparty channels. Formal mechanisms of IGR – including the Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC), a key executive body set up to coordinate between levels following devolution – were rarely used. Following the 2007 regional elections, however, multilevel congruence was lost which led to a moderate increase in the use of more formal and institutionalized channels of the JMC (McEwen et al. 2012). As in Japan, however, the continued dependence of regional governments to the center for both policy and fiscal resources and the lack of a constitutional basis for regional governments to effectively challenge the center has dampened overt conflicts. Pragmatic actions prevailed with IGR becoming moderately more institutionalized and more multilateral, though informal bilateral negotiations between levels continued to be prevalent (Bolleyer et al. 2014).

In Italy, which underwent significant decentralization reform since the 1990s, local actors sought to expand their engagement in the national policy process through formal and more multilateral channels. Palermo and Wilson (2014) find that formal channels of intergovernmental coordination were overall weak, although new channels were created and others were made more institutionalized and prominent following decentralization, such as the State-Region Conference. Under the new context, territorial leaders have also sought to coordinate their negotiating position with the central government through collective lobby groups representing regions and municipalities. Despite some movement towards greater multilateral fora to defend local interests against the center, interactions tend to be dominated by informal, bilateral negotiations. Partisan incongruence was limited in Italy for most periods since the late 1990s, thereby largely limiting partisan-based conflicts between national and regional governments.

Despite these new intergovernmental channels and substantial decentralization reforms, local governments in all three states share difficulty in ensuring that local interests are reflected in critical national policies which affect them. This underlines the ultimately consultative nature of these engagement mechanisms in unitary states: local governments may be invited to speak, but there are no guarantees to be heard when legislation is made.



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© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Graduate School of LawKyoto UniversityKyotoJapan