EDITORIAL: Vote-value disparity a gross inequality that cannot continue
The Supreme Court’s latest ruling on the issue of vote-value disparity has left us wondering how long it will take until this clear, outrageous inequality is corrected.
It seems that both the judiciary and the legislature lack awareness of the urgent need to fix this unacceptable situation.
The Supreme Court’s Grand Bench ruled on Nov. 25 that the Lower House election in December last year was held in a “state of unconstitutionality,” citing a huge disparity in the relative vote-value among constituencies.
Given that the top court has handed down three similar rulings in the past four years, it has become almost routine to hear it declare that an election was held in a “state of unconstitutionality.”
The Diet has dragged its feet on reforming the electoral system, so a fundamental solution to the problem has yet to be found.
We are concerned that the Supreme Court’s tepid ruling on the issue could be used by the Diet as an excuse for its inaction.
In its ruling in 2011, the top court argued that the method of first distributing one seat to each of the 47 prefectures before allocating the remaining seats in the single-seat constituency part of the electoral system in proportion to population was the main cause of the vote-value disparity. The court said this approach should be “abolished as soon as possible.”
In its 2013 ruling on the Lower House election held in December 2012, however, the court took note of the Diet’s last-minute move to reduce the number of seats slightly as “certain progress,” easing the pressure on the Diet. The court’s latest ruling is in line with the 2013 decision.
In the Nov. 25 ruling, the Supreme Court had encouraging words for work by a Lower House expert committee on the election system to come up with measures to revamp the seat-allocation method, saying efforts to improve the situation are being made in line with the past rulings.
Let us ponder this problem from a basic standpoint.
In the Lower House election last December, one vote in the nation’s least populated constituency was worth 2.13 votes in the most heavily populated district. In other words, the weight of one person’s vote in a certain district was less than half of the weight of another person’s vote in a different district.
Casting votes in elections is the most important of the few opportunities for the public to exercise their sovereign power that is invested in them by the Constitution.
Allowing a situation to continue where a vote in one district is worth less than half of a vote in another represents an egregious inequality among the people that must be redressed immediately.
The fact that the flawed seat-allocation method remains basically unchanged four years after the Supreme Court criticized is testimony to the Diet’s gross negligence.
What is notable about the latest Supreme Court ruling is that three of the 14 justices of the Grand Bench criticized the Diet for its failure to tackle the problem, saying sufficient time had passed to realize equality in voting.
Two of the three dissenting justices argued for invalidating the Lower House election, and the remaining one called for declaring the election “unconstitutional” in the text of the judgment.
In the ruling, the top court maintained that the constitutional order should be formed through interactions between the judiciary and the legislature.
The interactions apparently work as follows. The Diet makes laws, and the Supreme Court sends its messages on certain laws through its rulings. The Diet then reforms the laws in response to the court’s rulings.
This seems to mean that the top court puts much importance on “dialogue” between the legislature and the judiciary.
But history shows the Diet has repeatedly ignored messages from the judiciary or interpreted them in a way convenient to it.
In order to ensure meaningful “dialogue,” the top court should have made more specific demands, such as setting clear deadlines for corrective actions by the Diet.
The Supreme Court has repeatedly declared that both the Upper and Lower Houses have been elected in a “state of unconstitutionality.” This is simply an extraordinary situation.
It is unacceptable that the Diet members, who are obliged to respect the Constitution, allow such serious inequality to remain unchanged.
This injustice should be rectified immediately.