Set aside party interests to narrow vote-value disparity in lower house
Ruling and opposition parties should set aside party interests to narrow the vote-value disparity in the House of Representatives election and tackle the electoral system reform.
A research panel of experts tasked with reform of the lower house electoral system has compiled a draft proposal for redistributing seats allocated to each prefecture by using the so-called Adams’ method to rectify the vote-value disparity in single-seat constituencies.
According to the draft proposal, a total of seven constituency seats should be added in Tokyo and four other prefectures, while 13 other prefectures, including Aomori and Iwate, should lose one seat each. As a result, the maximum vote-value disparity at the prefectural level would be reduced to 1.621-to-1.
The vote-value disparity in single-seat constituencies would also likely be reduced to less than 2-to-1, as called for by the law concerning the establishment of the council on rezoning the electoral districts of the lower house.
The Adams’ method would be used in place of the current seat distribution system [which allots one seat to each prefecture and then decides, in proportion to the population, how many additional seats each prefecture should be allocated in the single-seat constituencies of the election]. The Adams’ method is said to be comparatively favorable to less populous prefectures and able to reduce the increase and decrease in the seats allocated to each prefecture to a narrow range. It also will be able to cope with a population decrease in the future to a certain extent. With the method, even Tottori Prefecture, whose population is the smallest on the prefectural level, would be able to maintain the two-seat allocation for the present.
The Adams’ method is a realistic one in terms of rectifying the vote-value disparity in consideration of local areas.
The Supreme Court handed down a ruling in late November that the lower house election in December last year, which had a maximum vote-value disparity of 2.13-to-1 in single-seat constituencies, was in a state of unconstitutionality. As the legislative body, the Diet must respond swiftly to the request from the judicial branch of government.
Not all will be pleased
What is questionable is that the draft proposed eliminating six seats in the single-seat constituencies and eliminating four in the proportional representation blocks. The proposed reduction would take the number of lower house seats to a postwar low of 465.
If the number of lower house seats is reduced, even just slightly, it would be difficult to reflect the diversity of public opinions in the election. Diet functions, such as lawmaker-initiated legislation and holding administrations to account through deliberations on bills, could be weaker. Originally, the number of legislators in proportion to the population was smaller in Japan than in the United States and European countries.
Furthermore, the fewer seats there are, the more difficult the correction of the vote-value disparity becomes.
Even within the panel, there were voices pointing out the negative effects of reducing the number of seats. It is regrettable that the panel finally had no choice but to incorporate the assertions of main political parties that seek a drastic reduction in the seats.
The panel is scheduled to submit its proposal to lower house Speaker Tadamori Oshima in early January. In June last year, each main party confirmed that they would “respect” the conclusion of the panel. However, some members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party who were elected from less populated electoral districts have already expressed their opposition to the draft proposal.
Electoral systems directly lead to the rise and fall of political parties. No plan can avoid every objection. The LDP should not cling to its own interests, but should play a leading role in drawing together the various opinions of each political party to reach a consensus.
Shifting to a new system requires revision of the Public Offices Election Law so that the content of the proposal can be reflected in the law. It also requires studying a new rezoning process. It will likely take more than a year to do so.
Ruling and opposition parties are urged to realize the electoral system reform with such a time schedule in mind.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 19, 2015)