Makeshift fix for electoral disparity

The Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner Komeito on June 24 succeeding in getting a law enacted that will reapportion Lower House seats to rectify the disparity in single-seat constituency vote values between depopulated rural areas and populous urban ones.

Acting as an impetus for the new law were 16 high court rulings that determined that the Dec. 16, 2012, Lower House election was either unconstitutional or “in a state of unconstitutionality” because of the vote disparity. Unfortunately, the law, which will trim one Lower House seat in each of five prefectures, is merely a makeshift measure. It is regrettable that the LDP, Komeito and the Democratic Party of Japan have reneged on their November 2012 agreement to drastically reform the Lower House election system by June 26, the end of the Diet session. These parties should make good on their promise.

Both the ruling and opposition parties gave priority to partisan interests without trying to work out effective reform of the election system. Sixty days after the Lower House had passed the bill and sent it to the opposition-controlled Upper House, a vote in the Upper House was still pending. So, on Monday, the ruling coalition in the Lower House enacted the bill, invoking the Constitution’s Article 59, which allows a two-thirds Lower House majority to enact legislation if the Upper House has not acted on it within 60 days.

In March 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that the August 2009 Lower House election was “in a state of unconstitutionality” because the maximum 2.304-to-1 vote-value disparity between rural areas and urban areas was too large. No rectification was made before the December 2012 Lower House election. Under the new law, the number of single-seat constituencies will be reduced from three to two in Fukui, Yamanashi, Tokushima, Kochi and Saga prefectures.

As the number of Lower House members from single-seat constituencies decrease from the current 300 to 295, the demarcations of 42 single-seat electoral districts in Tokyo and 16 prefectures will be changed. As a result, the maximum vote-value disparity between rural and urban areas will drop from the 2.43 times in the December 2012 Lower House election to 1.998 times. But if the population estimate as of March 1 is applied, the disparity may top 2 times in at least six electoral districts.

For the sake of drastic reform of the Lower House election system, the LDP proposed a complicated system designed to help minor parties, including Komeito. Meanwhile, the DPJ and the Japan Restoration Party proposed a large cut in the number of Lower House members elected by proportional representation. But reducing the number of representatives is not a solution because it would make it much harder for minority parties to win seats. This would weaken Japanese democracy by making it more difficult for all voters to be adequately represented.

The Diet must create an electoral system that will enable change of government while ensuring fair representation of minority opinions and fair distribution of seats between rural and urban areas.