Court buys time for vote-value adjustment

Kyodo

The Hiroshima High Court ruled Thursday that the disparity in the weight of votes in July’s House of Councilors election was “in a state of unconstitutionality,” a nuanced term in Japanese that stops short of calling it unconstitutional.

The court also dismissed the plaintiffs’ demand that the electoral results in two constituencies — Hiroshima and Yamaguchi prefectures — be nullified.

While determining “a severe gap was found in the weight of votes,” presiding Judge Motoki Udagawa said: “It takes time to reform the electoral system as it requires high-level political decisions. It is not unconstitutional, even if the government did not take corrective measures.”

Udagawa added, however, it could be determined unconstitutional if the government failed to correct the disparity by the time the next Upper House election is held in 2016.

The latest decision is the second ruling among 14 similar lawsuits filed with high courts by groups of lawyers who have argued that the disparities of up to 4.77-fold in the July 21 Upper House election are against the equal-protection clause under the Constitution, and thus the election should be invalidated.

The high court’s Okayama branch ruled last week that the result of the election in the Okayama Prefecture constituency should be invalidated due to an unconstitutional gap in the weight of votes.

One of the plaintiffs, lawyer Tetsuya Kanao, told reporters after the court was adjourned, “It is regrettable that the latest decision is quite different from the one by the Okayama branch.” They will appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.

In October last year, the Supreme Court ruled the maximum fivefold disparity in the weight of votes in the 2010 Upper House election was “in a state of unconstitutionality.”

Despite amendments to the election law in November last year, the disparity in the number of eligible voters per Upper House member still stood at 4.77-fold between the Tottori constituency, which has the fewest voters, and the Hokkaido constituency, which has the most.