DPJ's reversal of stance on electoral reform unreasonable
The largest opposition Democratic Party of Japan seems far too indifferent to a series of court rulings rebuking existing vote-value disparities.
Secretaries general of the major three political parties--the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, its junior coalition partner New Komeito and the DPJ--held a meeting Friday to discuss electoral reform. During the meeting, the ruling parties called for prompt passage of a bill to rezone electoral districts in the House of Representatives by slashing five seats without increasing any others in other single-seat constituencies. However, as the DPJ opposed the coalition's proposal, the three parties failed to agree.
In 14 of 16 lawsuits filed against the government over the issue of lower house vote-value disparities, high courts have ruled the disparities unconstitutional.
Some of the rulings went too far in deeming the results of the Dec. 16 lower house election invalid. Still, both the ruling and opposition parties must take the courts' decisions declaring the disparities "unconstitutional" seriously. They should first pass the rezoning bill based on a proposal from the Council on the House of Representatives Electoral Districts before undertaking other electoral reform measures.
DPJ's proposal unrealistic
Arguing that the proposed elimination of five single-seat constituencies is not good enough, the DPJ has compiled its own drastic reform plan that calls for reducing the number of single-seat constituencies by 30 to 270 and lowering proportional representation seats by 50 to 130. The DPJ apparently wants to show the public that lawmakers will put themselves on the line for electoral reform by reducing the number of seats in the lower house. However, we think this stance misses the point.
Furthermore, the leading parties have been widely split over drastic measures for electoral reform, so they are unlikely to reach an agreement in the near future.
It is true the LDP-Komeito plan is complicated and has been criticized for possibly violating the Constitution, drawing objections from opposition parties. The ruling camp's plan seeks a decrease in proportional representation seats by 30 to 150, of which 60 seats will be preferentially allocated to smaller parties.
But still, the DPJ's plan calling for a drastic reduction in the number of single-seat constituencies is unrealistic as it would require major rezoning of electoral districts.
The DPJ is chiefly to blame for having failed to correct the vote-value disparities before last year's lower house election when it held the reins of government. The party's failure can be attributed to its adherence to the idea of fixing the disparities and conducting drastic electoral reform simultaneously, with the apparent aim of postponing dissolution of the lower house for its own interests.
Last autumn, the DPJ finally agreed to a measure proposing the elimination of five single-seat constituencies before the enactment of drastic electoral reform, but it now opposes the plan. It is unreasonable that the party has returned to its previous stance of insisting both issues be handled at the same time. Such a stance could stall a solution to the pressing matter of correcting the vote disparities, potentially leaving it unaddressed even as the next lower house election comes around.
Long-term measures essential
The DPJ seems to have carved out a strategy of pursuing unrealistic ideals, which has failed to produce any achievements. This sophomoric style was evinced in its lofty election pledges for the 2009 lower house election. The DPJ has apparently learned nothing from its time in power.
Of course, eliminating five single-seat constituencies is merely a stopgap reform measure. If it is implemented, the vote-value disparity ratio will be reduced to 1.998-to-1 or less. But the ratio is likely to exceed 2-1, an acceptable maximum according to the Supreme Court, at some stage.
Various problems have been highlighted with the current lower house electoral system, which combines single-seat constituencies with the proportional representation formula. For one, the system enables candidates who lose in single-seat constituencies to still be elected through proportional representation. Drastic electoral reform is essential, including a measure to clarify the roles of both chambers of the Diet.
If major parties are not able to make significant progress in their electoral reform discussions, they should give serious thought to consulting expert panels on the issue.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 30, 2013)