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Japan’s conservative-leaning Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has dominated Japanese politics since the Second World War, has tried for years to change the country’s constitutional commitment to demilitarization. Under current Prime Minster Shinzo Abe this effort appeared likely to succeed, but today change again looks unlikely. To understand why, we need to grasp how this “constitutional cleavage” is a core element of Japanese party competition.1 Here I provide the background to this issue and set Abe’s recent problems within this framework.

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