As soon as the results were announced for last week’s Upper House election, a group of lawyers filed lawsuits demanding the results be nullified because of wide disparities in the value of votes.
Other lawsuits filed in past elections also claimed this problem, but this time, the lawsuits covered all prefectural areas and should be considered seriously.
The lawsuits’ intention has a strong basis in constitutional law. However, the solution is not as easy as it may seem. Upper House seats are supposed to be allocated on the basis of the population of each prefecture.
As populations have shifted by moving into larger urban areas, countryside votes gained higher value because redistribution according to new population figures was not undertaken. That redistribution needs to be done, while maintaining fair representation for each area of the country.
In a historic ruling, the Supreme Court in March 2011 recognized that the maximum vote-value disparity of 2.30-to-1 in the 2009 Lower House election was “in the state of being unconstitutional” and that the seat distribution was in need of reform.”
Unfortunately not much happened afterward in the seat distribution of both the Lower and Upper houses. In the July 21 Upper House election, the Tottori constituency has a 4.77-to-1 disparity with the constituency in Hokkaido in the number of residents for each seat. Vote disparities in other parts of the country often reach similar disproportion.
The lawyers argue that the number of lawmakers should be in proportion to the population and that Japan is exceptional among advanced democratic countries for not maintaining the right proportions. In that, the lawyers who filed the suits are correct, but rectification is not just about adjusting numbers.
Many people blame this disparity for the outcomes of recent elections, especially in the Lower House election in December 2012 and the Upper House election last week.
Were the disparities rectified, the argument goes, the results would be very different. The low turnout for the recent election may also in part stem from this perceived unfairness. In an Upper House election, it would take as many as five city voters to balance out one vote from some countryside constituencies.
The Diet — which means the political parties that make up the Diet — has yet to address this problem. Lawmakers need to take up the issue and ensure that all constituencies are allotted the right number of representatives.
At the same time, however, countryside areas need sufficient representation. Japan’s many different areas all deserve to have their voices heard and to receive fair representation.
Japan’s economy, society and culture have developed with a historically close connection between urban and rural ways of life. To ensure Japan remains a thriving democracy and continues to be unified across urban and rural divides, a better system of distribution is needed.
The political parties should start an action immediately to make sure all people’s votes duly count and all areas of the country are fairly represented. That is no easy task, but then democracy never has been easy.