World

When Longtime Governing Majorities Finally Fall

In Japan, the Liberal Democratic Party is  politics. As of Sunday, however, that "is" will probably be revised to "was." The conservative party has been in power since the inception of the country's postwar political system, having led Japan out of occupation, into economic ascendancy, and through crippling recession. But nothing lasts forever, and this weekend's national elections will almost inevitably end the party's half century of (nearly) uninterrupted dominance. Fired up with economic frustration and disillusionment with the clubby LDP, an unprecedented 90 percent of voters are poised to cast their ballots, most of them ready to relegate LDP leaders to the unlucky club of political stars finally forced to share the stage. Here, then, is an unscientific survey of other political power brokers—finally ousted after what seemed like an eternity in office—with whom they might commiserate.

Country: Israel
Party: Mapai/Labor
Time in office: 1949-1974
Even before there was an Israel, there was an Israeli left. Mapai was founded in the 1930s, bringing together different arms of the Zionist movement into one political machine. After independence, Mapai was the only show in town. The party held power from 1949 until 1974, when the party, under the leadership of Golda Meir, merged with other leftist parties to become the modern Labor Party. But even as Labor consolidated power, its grip on Israeli politics was beginning to loosen. Labor was ousted three years later with the election of Menachem Begin's Likud Party, ushering in an era of mixed successes for each side. Since then, left and right have traded off control of the Knesset every few years.

Country: India
Party: Indian National Congress
Time in office: 1946-1977
The party of Gandhi rules the political roost in India. The Indian National Congress was founded in 1885 by a group of intellectuals seeking to carve out a greater Indian voice in the British administration, but it was basically a debating society for elites until Mohandas Gandhi burst onto the scene in 1920, leading a national campaign of nonviolent resistance. As India moved toward independence, the party splintered and reconvened, working out the messy business of partition and government-building. After losing the Muslim vote to the Muslim League in 1946, Congress, under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru, took control of the new Indian government, a role it held without interruption until 1977. Voters had become disillusioned with the party after Nehru's daughter Indira Gandhi (who became prime minister in 1966) declared emergency rule in 1975, and Congress lost its first national election in 1977. Congress holds power again today through Prime Minister Manmohan Singh—but with nothing like the inevitability of its golden age.

Country: United Kingdom
Party: Conservative
Time in office: 1979-1997
They don't call her the Iron Lady for nothing. After years of trading off power with the liberal Labour Party, Margaret Thatcher led her Conservative Party to an 18-year era of conservative dominance in Parliament in 1979. Unlike previous conservative governments, which approached social legislation more timidly, Thatcher's government went on a privatization spree, undoing much of the nationalization introduced during periods of Labour rule. But Thatcher's approach fell out of favor as recession took hold in the early 1990s, leaving an opening for Tony Blair's fresh New Labour movement. Using his vision of a "young Britain," Blair was able to paint the Conservative Party as out of date and out of touch. In the 1997 election, the Conservatives snagged just 165 of the 659 seats in the House of Commons, the smallest number of seats they had held since 1906; Labour took a 179-seat majority. But if polls are any guide, its 12-year resurgence may be winding down alongside Prime Minister Gordon Brown's poll numbers.

Country: Zimbabwe
Party: Zimbabwe African National Union–Patriotic Front
Time in office: 1980-2008
Robert Mugabe, 85, has governed Zimbabwe since he led the movement to overthrow the white government of Rhodesia in 1980. His Zimbabwe African National Union–Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party won parliamentary elections in 1980, making him prime minister. But unrest in the government's formative years led him to become increasingly possessive of power. He crushed armed resistance and redistributed white-owned land to black farmers, then took control of the presidency in 1987 (abolishing the post of prime minister), a position he holds to this day. But the later years of Mugabe's rule brought total economic disarray to Zimbabwe, which was facing an inconceivable inflation rate of 11 million percent. Despite violent efforts to control the election's outcome, the ZANU-PF lost its parliamentary majority in 2008, when the rival Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), led by Morgan Tsvangirai, won a slim one-seat majority in the House of Assembly. In runoff elections, Mugabe claimed victory with 85 percent of the vote, but after more violence and stalemate (topped by a devastating cholera outbreak), he agreed to form a coalition government with Tsvangirai, who took the newly restored position of prime minister.

Country: Mexico
Party: Institutional Revolutionary Party
Time in office: 1929-1997
Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) had the longest run of the bunch, gaining power in 1929 and holding it virtually unopposed until the early 1990s. The PRI was initially founded by sitting president Plutarco Elías Calles in 1929 as a loose confederation of political bosses, military men, labor unions, and peasant groups—as a means of solidifying Calles's own control. During the 1930s, his successors pushed him and the military out of power, streamlining the party into an all-encompassing political machine. Corruption reached a peak in the 1970s, producing a backlash that ushered in an era of pro-business leadership in the party in the 1980s. But this produced its own blowback, prompting a leftist faction to break off in 1988, helping to form the first real opposition the country had seen in 50 years. The PRI lost its congressional majority in 1997, after having led the government for seven decades. This defeat was followed three years later with the loss of the presidency to the conservative businessman Vicente Fox.