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Councilors snub bill on vote gap fix

by Ayako Mie

Staff Writer

In an act of protest, the opposition-controlled House of Councilors on Friday refused to vote on a bill to rectify the unconstitutional vote-value disparity in the House of Representatives and sent it back to the lower chamber.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party and junior coalition partner New Komeito, which hold a two-thirds majority in the Lower House, pledged to pass the bill again as early as Monday.

Five days before the end of the Diet session, the standoff between the ruling and opposition camps appeared to be devolving into another round of withering “power game” politics.

Although the ruling camp had pushed to put the bill to a vote Friday, the Upper House Steering Committee, controlled by the opposition, declined to vote, claiming there wasn’t enough time for deliberation. The ruling coalition then submitted a no-confidence motion against Upper House President Kenji Hirata of the Democratic Party of Japan, accusing him of failing to fulfill his responsibility.

According to Article 59 of the Constitution, the ruling coalition can pass the bill into law with a two-thirds vote Monday because the Lower House decision takes precedence in passing legislation.

Sixty days has passed since the Lower House passed the bill after a spate of the high court rulings declared the vote-value disparity unconstitutional. One court found the Dec. 16 Lower House election had the maximum vote value disparity of 2.425 times.

The bill in dispute reduces the number of single-seat constituencies by one each in Fukui, Yamanashi, Tokushima, Kochi and Saga prefectures and changes the demarcation lines of 42 of them in Tokyo and 16 other prefectures so that the vote disparities max out at 1.998 times.

Experts in constitutional law, however, widely agree that the proposed reduction is trivial and that a much deeper reduction, as demanded by the opposition, is needed to equalize vote values across the country.

Article 59 stipulates that if the Upper House doesn’t act on a bill within 60 days, it is automatically sent back to the Lower House.

The bill for rectifying the disparity was initially cleared by all three parties last November on condition that then-Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda of the DPJ promptly call a snap election.

The parties agreed to pursue a sweeping reduction in constituencies while the Diet was in session and to prioritize correction of the vote-value disparity.

But the opposition’s calls for comprehensive change were ignored as the ruling coalition stayed on the fence. After the Supreme Court entered the picture, however, the ruling coalition focused on pursuing a minimal correction to the vote gap.