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Cabinet OKs bill to pare gap in vote values

by Ayako Mie

Staff Writer

Coming on the heels of several court rulings that the December general election was unconstitutional, and even invalid, a ruling coalition-sponsored bill to rectify vote-value disparities was approved Friday by the Cabinet and sent to the Lower House.

Opposition parties are set to fight the bill during deliberations slated to begin next week. But the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its ally, New Komeito, aim to clear it through the House of Representatives by the end of the month by continuing negotiations with secretaries general from the opposition camp.

The legislation aims to cut one seat each from Fukui, Yamanashi, Tokushima, Kochi and Saga prefectures, and to redesignate 42 constituencies across 17 prefectures to reduce the maximum vote-value disparity to 1.998 from 2.524, based on 2010 census figures. It is based on a recommendation submitted March 28 by an independent panel at the Lower House in charge of examining the issue.

The reform comes in belated response to a March 2011 Supreme Court ruling that the 2009 Lower House poll was “in a state of unconstitutionality,” and the recent high court rulings that declared the Dec. 16 general election, which returned the LDP to power, either unconstitutional or invalid in 31 constituencies.

While the bill stipulates that seats should allocated on the basis of the census, the Interior Affairs and Communications Ministry said the disparity would already exceed 2-1, based on monthly population counts. The 2011 natural and nuclear disasters forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate, causing wide fluctuations in the populations of the Tohoku region and other parts of the country where evacuees relocated.

The Democratic Party of Japan, which was booted from power in December’s poll, and fellow opposition groups Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) and Your Party have called for more sweeping electoral reforms.

The DPJ, which approved a plan Thursday to abolish 30 single-seat constituencies and another 50 based on proportional representation, hopes to resist the ruling bloc’s legislation in lockstep with the other opposition groups. But Nippon Ishin coleader Toru Hashimoto has called for 21 seats to be reallocated by scrapping the current allocation of one seat to each of the 47 prefectures.