Scrutinize problems of current lower house election system
To carry out drastic reform of the House of Representatives election system, it is indispensable to scrutinize the current system's problems and reflect on what politics should be.
In connection with the issue of rectifying the vote-value disparity, discussions continue in the Diet to drastically change the existing system, which combines single-seat constituencies and proportional representation, in addition to cutting the number of lower house seats.
A suprapartisan parliamentary league of lawmakers seeking drastic reform of the lower house election system, for example, decided during its general meeting on Thursday that it will aim to introduce a multiple-seat constituency system.
More than 150 lawmakers from the ruling and opposition parties are members of the group, with former Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Koichi Kato and Democratic Party of Japan Supreme Adviser Kozo Watanabe serving as representatives.
It is worth noting that the idea of reinstating the multiple-seat constituency system, which New Komeito and other political parties sought in the past, has become a suprapartisan movement involving members of the DPJ and the LDP.
Discussion documents prepared by the league argue that under the current single-seat constituency system, candidates only voice opinions that go down well with everyone.
Because candidates need support from a wide range of people to be elected, the league says they tend to get caught up in populism. It added that candidates' policy expertise becomes impaired and their quality as a whole deteriorates.
Status quo yields lopsided results
In addition, as seen in the resounding victory of the LDP in the 2005 lower house election and of the DPJ in the 2009 lower house election, the documents also say the single-seat constituency system tends to make the number of seats won by a party either extremely large or very small, making politics rather unstable.
We share such concerns. However, the most important thing is whether reinstating the multiple-seat constituency system will lead to improved politics.
The multiple-seat constituency system, which was in place until 1993, drew much criticism. Under that system, political parties and policies were not given top priority when election campaigns were fought. Instead, candidates competed by doing favors for voters, which costs a lot of money. In the LDP, faction-led politics dominated. It was also pointed out that a change in government was difficult to achieve.
The situation of politics and money has changed remarkably in the past 20 years, as has the status of faction-led politics, but a return to the harmful effects experienced in the past would be unworthy to be called reform.
Many ideas in the arena
The league is discussing a plan to reduce the number of lower house seats from the current 480 to either 400 or 450. It is also considering creating constituencies with two to five seats and a new voting method. These ideas need to be thoroughly discussed.
For drastic reform of the lower house election system, discussions are under way on various measures beside the proposed multiple-seat constituency system. Revisions to the current system are one idea. Another is a system combining single-seat constituencies and proportional representation with a new method of allotting proportional representation seats in a way beneficial to parties that hold a smaller number of seats from single-seat electoral contests. A proportional representation system is also being discussed.
One thing that must be kept in mind is that election system reform should make it difficult for a divided Diet to occur so political confusion will not be created. It is also important to think about the respective roles shouldered by the lower house and the House of Councillors, and create a lower house election system suitable for the lower house's role.
It is also necessary to deepen discussions by setting up an election system council of experts, rather than simply leaving the matter to politicians, who tend to care most of all about the rise and fall of their own parties.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 27, 2012)