Don't lump 'vote value disparity' issue with planned cuts in lawmakers
Both the ruling and opposition camps must place top priority on resolving what the judiciary has described as a "state of unconstitutionality" in the House of Representatives electoral system, and do everything possible to enact a bill that will alleviate the problem.
The government has presented to the lower house a bill that would change the demarcation of the chamber's single-seat constituencies by revising the Public Offices Election Law, with the aim of trimming the number of first-past-the-post districts by five to 295 from the current 300.
The bill would revamp 42 single-seat districts of 17 prefectures, including Tokyo, based on recommendations submitted in March to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe by an expert panel tasked with rezoning lower house constituencies.
If the bill becomes law, disparities in the weight of each vote on the basis of the 2010 national census will fall below 2:1 between the most and least populated districts, the ratio the Supreme Court has ruled as "being within the bounds of reasonableness."
No consensus on reform
In 17 administrative lawsuits filed over vote value disparity in the previous lower house election in December, high courts have handed down rulings of "unconstitutionality" in 15 of them. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the issue as early as this autumn.
Given that this will have a bearing on its makeup, it is only natural that the the Diet should rectify state of unconstitutionality.
However, most opposition parties, including the Democratic Party of Japan, are poised to oppose the bill.
They say the bill would not abolish the system under which each of the 47 prefectures is automatically allocated one single-seat constituency, and the remainder of seats is apportioned among them, according to their populations. A 2011 Supreme Court ruling said this system should be scrapped because it was a major cause of vote value disparities.
DPJ Secretary General Goshi Hosono insists the government-submitted bill for eliminating five single-seat districts "doesn't go far enough to eliminate the state of unconstitutionality." He has called for consultations between the ruling and opposition blocs on drastically reforming the lower house electoral system, including slashing the large number of seats in the chamber.
It should be remembered, however, the DPJ agreed in November to a bill that would establish a framework for pruning five single-seat constituencies from the chamber. The party's latest tactic smacks of opportunism.
The parties remain far apart in their thinking on how the electoral system should be reformed. Given the slim chances of forming a consensus on this issue, it is the minimum responsibility of the legislature to pass into law as quickly as possible the bill to erase five seats.
Fundamentally, the arguments by many parties for advocating reforms by linking them with the issue of reducing lower house seats are not reasonable.
In an apparent bid to justify its position, the DPJ insists Diet members should be willing to put themselves on the line to obtain public support for higher burdens the people will face due to looming increases in the consumption tax rate. The DPJ assertion, however, is completely unrelated to the issue of rectifying vote value gaps.
Revote may be inevitable
We have doubts about the debates among the parties that are seemingly vying over the number of seats to be cut. This seems little more than a populist tactic to garner support as the House of Councillors election draws near.
Japan has relatively few legislators per head of population compared with other developed nations. The legislature must ensure it functions to properly oversee the actions of the administration by representing the opinions of a wide spectrum of the public.
The ruling parties have floated an idea to make the bill, if it is voted down or is not put to a vote in the upper house due to a failure to agree on terms with the opposition, passed into law through a revote in the lower house in accordance with Article 59 of the Constitution.
Time is running out, as the current Diet session will be adjourned in June. The Diet must not let the "unconstitutionality" issue go unaddressed any longer. Under the circumstances, the government may have no option but to take a revote to legislate the bill as an emergency step.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 14, 2013)