Can consensus be achieved through LDP’s lower house electoral reform plan?
The electoral system is the foundation of democracy. It is desirable that the system is reformed based on a broad consensus among the ruling and opposition parties. However, a draft plan proposed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party looks unlikely to win the understanding of other parties.
According to the draft plan on reforming the House of Representatives electoral system compiled by the LDP, only demarcation of single-seat constituencies would be reviewed based on simplified censuses conducted in 2015, while the number of seats allocated to prefectures would be maintained, to reduce vote-value disparities to less than 2 to 1.
The LDP draft plan also says the reduction of lower house seats and the review of their allocation to prefectures would be postponed until after full censuses are conducted in 2020. The LDP proposes eliminating six seats in single-seat constituencies and four in proportional representation blocs, but details on how to allocate the number of seats to prefectures — which is the most important point — are still unclear.
The LDP claims its draft plan is based on a report submitted by a research panel of experts on lower house electoral system reform, but the party seems to lack sincerity.
The panel says in its report that the Adams’ method should be used to reallocate lower house seats to prefectures. According to the report, this would increase the number of seats allocated to Tokyo and four prefectures by seven in total, while 13 prefectures would lose one seat each. Even if population changes in the future are taken into consideration, the vote-value disparity is expected to be less than 2 to 1 for a while.
Compared to other major allocation methods, the Adams’ method is said to be advantageous to less-populated prefectures. The LDP is critical of the panel’s report for being harsh on provincial regions. However, it certainly pays due consideration to them.
In the report, redrawing electoral districts at the time of simplified censuses is considered merely a supplementary measure for the correction of the number of lower house seats to be done every 10 years.
Respect panel’s report
The LDP’s draft plan, which would change demarcation of constituencies first, cannot help but give the impression that the party has employed only parts of the report for its own convenience. Doesn’t the LDP, in its heart of hearts, only want to avoid opposition from incumbent lawmakers whose constituencies are in prefectures where lower house seats might be reduced?
A major problem with the LDP’s draft plan is that electoral districts would have to be redrawn widely twice — this time, and five years from now.
If demarcation of constituencies is changed often, it could damage the stability of the electoral system. It would also weaken relations between voters and lawmakers or candidates.
Since the LDP failed to reach an agreement on an electoral reform plan in its negotiations with the other parties in the first place, didn’t the party decide to let experts discuss the issue and pledge to respect their report?
Of course, as the report expresses doubt about the necessity to reduce the number of lower house seats, there is some room for discussion on that point. However, it is unreasonable not to accept the Adams’ method, a basic part of the report, and postpone fundamental reform for as long as five years.
Some members of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan have already voiced criticism about the LDP plan, calling it “out of the question.”
Transition to a new electoral system will require revision of the Public Offices Election Law and other relevant laws, and reviewing the demarcation of electoral districts.
The LDP, which is far more powerful than any of the other parties in the lower house, bears the grave responsibility of leading discussions on electoral system reform. The party must refine its draft plan, rising above party interests and strategy.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 13, 2016)