The Diet’s deepening divide was underscored Monday when the ruling bloc led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party bulldozed through an electoral reform bill in a manner not seen since 2008.
The bill, which will trim the number of Lower House seats by five to fractionally ease the unconstitutional disparity in the weight of votes, was enacted by the Lower House by a more than two-thirds majority. The second vote was triggered when the opposition-controlled Upper House effectively rejected it under the Constitution’s Article 59, which allows a two-thirds Lower House majority to enact legislation that was sent to the Upper House but not acted upon within 60 days.
The Lower House approved the electoral reform bill in its first vote April 23, but the upper chamber refused to deliberate and the 60-day deadline passed last Friday. The use of a second Lower House vote based on Article 59 hasn’t been seen since 2008.
Abe has been increasingly confrontational with the opposition camp, apparently encouraged by the recent high approval ratings for his Cabinet ahead of the July Upper House election that could put an end to the divided Diet.
Abe has been trying to respond swiftly to several high court rulings this year that judged the current disparity in vote values between the most- and least-populated constituencies as unconstitutional, with two of the rulings having concluded that results from last December’s general election, in which the LDP returned to power, are invalid.
The bill to revise the Public Office Election Law will reduce the number of Lower House single-seat constituencies to 295 from 300 and rezone some districts, reducing the biggest gap in vote values to below two times, satisfying recommendations made by a Diet advisory panel.
Opposition parties have demanded a bigger Lower House seat reduction as quickly as possible. Abe has said the five-seat cut is the first in a series of reform measures, promising more work will follow.