Abe eschews further delays, vows to cut 10 Lower House seats in line with census


Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday pledged to slash 10 seats in the House of Representatives sooner than his party has proposed.

Abe told the lower chamber’s powerful Budget Committee that a reduction of 10 Lower House seats will be implemented based on the findings of the preliminary 2015 national census, due out Feb. 26.

The Liberal Democratic Party has proposed that the seat reductions be postponed at least until the 2020 national census.

Abe said there must be no further delay. “This is my policy as the LDP president,” he said.

Some LDP members are against reducing seats as the LDP draws significant support from areas where reductions would take place.

The party proposed waiting until the 2020 national census in a bid to allay concerns among its members and supporters. Doing so could delay any redrawing of electoral boundaries to as late as 2022.

Coalition partner New Komeito as well as the opposition camp, especially the Democratic Party of Japan, have criticized the LDP over the matter because the reduction was agreed between the three parties in November 2012, while the DPJ was in power, in exchange for their acquiescence to a snap election. That agreement required electoral reform to take place during the 2013 ordinary Diet session.

Yoshihiko Noda, DPJ prime minister at the time of the deal, criticized Abe’s move, calling it “too little and too late.”

“Doesn’t that mean you lied to the Japanese people? I think it does, ” Noda said at meeting of the Lower House Budget Committee.

Abe responded, saying that his party will try to work based on a proposal by a third-party advisory panel to the Lower House speaker. That proposal, submitted last month, recommends a reduction of 10 Lower House seats.

Lower House Speaker Sadamori Oshima is scheduled to meet with both the ruling and opposition parties next Monday to discuss the matter.

The vote disparity is a long-standing problem. The Supreme Court last November ruled that the disparity in the value of votes between populous and less-populous constituencies in the Lower House general election meant that it took place “in a state of unconstitutionality.” It was the third time for an election to be judged thus.

The court decided the 2014 Lower House race was against the principle of the equality guaranteed under the Constitution even after a five-seat reduction was implemented. Yet it stopped short of ruling the election result invalid.