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LDP undaunted by vote-value rulings

Party vows to cut constituencies, sees no need for another election

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Despite a spate of high court rulings that last year’s general election was unconstitutional and even invalid due to large vote disparities, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party doesn’t think it is necessary to hold another Lower House campaign as long as it works on election reform, Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba said Tuesday.

And as long as the Diet passes an LDP-sponsored bill to cut five Lower House single-seat districts and bring the total to 295, Ishiba said, the maximum vote value disparity between rural and urban areas will be reduced to less than 2.0 times. This, he maintained, will leave the Diet qualified to discuss and propose constitutional revisions.

“I don’t believe it’s necessary for (the Lower House) to undergo” another election, Ishiba told reporters without elaborating.

The court rulings questioning the legitimacy of the Lower House members elected in December are being issued as the LDP aims to make it easier to revise the war-renouncing Constitution.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said he wants to change Article 96, which stipulates that for the Diet to propose a national referendum on constitutional revision, more than two-thirds of the lawmakers in both the Upper and Lower chambers must vote in favor.

He is aiming to ease this requirement to a simple majority in both chambers.

Abe’s LDP won a whopping 294 seats in the 480-seat Lower House in the December election. Together with other right-leaning lawmakers, Abe may be able to propose the first-ever revision to the postwar Constitution.

Some opposition lawmakers, however, are calling for more drastic reforms to make Lower House seat allocations strictly proportional to local populations.

The courts have also criticized the LDP’s reform proposal as a mere bandage.

Experts say that to distribute seats strictly in proportion to population levels, 21 existing single-seat districts would have to be terminated and 21 new districts would have to be created.

But Ishiba pointed out that the LDP-sponsored bill would reduce the maximum vote value disparity to less than 2.0 times for the first time in the postwar period, and that this should be the threshold for constitutionality.

He also said that to totally eliminate vote value disparities, the Diet would have to change seat allocations before every election.

“The number of seats (in the Lower House) would be changed at every election. I don’t believe (the courts) are demanding such” drastic electoral reform, Ishiba said.

But Monday’s ruling by the Hiroshima High Court found the results in the Hiroshima No. 1 and No. 2 districts unconstitutional and invalid, though the vote value disparity was 1.5 times when compared with the Kochi No. 3 district, where the value of one vote carried more weight than in any other constituency.

Other high court rulings have demanded more radical reforms, including calling for the abolition of the rule in which one seat is allocated to each of the 47 prefectures and then more are added in according to each prefecture’s population.

Under this rule, areas where the population has dropped tend to get more seats than they should. Many of the bigwigs in the LDP represent rural areas, and the party has been less than eager about correcting the vote disparity between rural and urban areas.

Meanwhile, negotiations on electoral reform have stalled as each party has called for changes that would favor themselves and not necessarily the nation’s voters.

The LDP has proposed cutting 30 seats from the proportional representation segment of the Lower House, which currently stands at 180. Of the remaining 150 seats, 60 would go to parties other than the top vote-getter in an election.

The LDP apparently proposed this complex system to favor New Komeito, its junior coalition partner. It would not directly correct the vote value disparities the high courts are ruling unconstitutional.