EDITORIAL: LDP needs to be serious about narrowing vote-value gap
There must be absolutely no further delay in the long-overdue electoral reform to redress grievous inequalities in representation.
To reduce the glaring disparity in the relative weight of a vote in Lower House single-seat constituencies, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party should respond positively to the major reapportionment and redistricting proposals made by its junior coalition partner, Komeito, and the opposition Democratic Party of Japan.
The 2015 national census has confirmed the worsening of the situation. A vote in the least populous Miyagi No. 5 district is “worth” the value of 2.334 votes in the most populous Tokyo No. 1, according to preliminary figures announced by the internal affairs ministry on Feb. 26.
The maximum gap in vote value narrowed to a ratio of 1.998 to 1 as a result of the changes made in 2013, which reduced the number of single-seat constituencies in five prefectures by one each.
But the latest demographic data have found a vote-value disparity of more than two--the standard of the Supreme Court for ruling “a state of unconstitutionality”--in 37 districts, including 14 in Tokyo, when compared with Miyagi No. 5.
As a formula to allocate Lower House seats to the 47 prefectures, a research council on the electoral system in January recommended the adoption of an apportion method that was proposed by John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the United States.
Many parties including the DPJ and Komeito have said they will accept the proposal. While the LDP has shown a reluctance to immediately adopt the method, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has promised to “respect” the panel’s recommendations.
The question is when the Adams method should be introduced.
In line with the panel’s proposal, which called for a net reduction of six seats elected in single-seat constituencies, the DPJ has proposed a combination of an increase of seven in the seats allocated to five prefectures and a reduction of one each in 13 prefectures, changes based on the 2010 national census. Komeito argues for an adjustment comprising an increase of nine seats combined with a reduction of 15 based on the 2015 data.
Abe, however, is apparently tilting toward the idea of limiting the immediate changes based on the 2015 census to cut six seats through redistricting within six prefectures. He prefers postponing a major overhaul based on the Adams apportion method until after the full census scheduled for 2020.
Abe claims his position is in line with the council’s recommendations, which said a reapportionment based on the Adams formula should be carried out in response to the findings of full censuses conducted once a decade.
It is true that the panel didn’t propose any specific time frame for the reform. But Abe’s position ignores the reality of serious inequality in the value of votes.
What is important is not to follow the letter of the panel’s recommendations. The crucial issue is how to respond to the calls for substantial electoral reform made by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court declared the past three Lower House elections to have been conducted “in a state of unconstitutionality” because of a sharp vote-value disparity. The court has also urged an early abolition of the method of first distributing one seat to each of the 47 prefectures before allocating the remaining seats.
The LDP’s “zero increase and six reduction” proposal would effectively keep the “one seat to each prefecture first” system intact.
Given that at least one Lower House election will be held by the time of the next national census, Komeito’s argument for introducing the Adams approach immediately by applying it to the newest demographic data is the most reasonable one.
Lower House Speaker Tadamori Oshima, who is serving as a broker in the negotiations over the issue among the parties, has expressed a desire to see the emergence of consensus by the end of this month. Abe should agree to the proposal put forward by Komeito, the LDP’s political ally.
We can understand the argument that slashing the number of seats allocated to sparsely populated areas would make it difficult to incorporate the voices of people in rural areas into the central government’s policies.
But the constitutional imperative of equality in the value of votes should not be obscured by this problem, which should be discussed from a different viewpoint.
The judiciary has ordered that the existing inequality should be redressed as quickly as possible. The legislature has a responsibility to carry out the order.