National / Crime & Legal

Okayama judge slams remiss Diet

Court voids poll results in a third district

Kyodo

Another court on Tuesday ruled the outcome of the December general election unconstitutional and invalid in a specific district, citing a significant disparity in the weight of votes.

The Okayama branch of the Hiroshima High Court decided to void the Lower House election outcome in the Okayama No. 2 district, a day after the high court nullified the election results for Hiroshima’s No. 1 and 2 districts in an unprecedented ruling.

Presiding Judge Noriyoshi Katano of the Okayama branch accused the Diet of neglecting to address vote disparity issues and disregarding the nation’s legal system.

“The 634-day period from the Supreme Court’s ruling until the election was enough time to fix the disparity,” Katano said.

In March 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that a vote disparity of up to 2.3 times in the 2009 election was “in a state of unconstitutionality.”

The Okayama branch did not give a moratorium on when its decision would take effect, meaning that if the ruling becomes final, there must be a new election.

Takashi Yamashita, a Lower House member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party who was elected for the first time from the Okayama No. 2 district, told reporters the Supreme Court needs to make the “final decision” on the matter.

Local election board officials are expected to appeal the branch’s decision.

Shintaro Kagawa, a lawyer for the case in the Okayama branch, told reporters that the ruling was “historic” and went “a step further” than the ruling by the Hiroshima High Court on Monday.

He urged the Supreme Court to quickly come up with a unified view on the vote disparity issue.

Following the ruling by the branch, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters “there is a need to swiftly fix” the disparities.

On Tuesday, several other courts also found that disparities in the value of votes of up to 2.43 to 1 in the Dec. 16 Lower House election, in which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s LDP won a landslide, were unconstitutional. But those courts did not nullify the election results.

The courts include the Hiroshima High Court’s Matsue branch, the Tokyo High Court, the Osaka High Court and the Fukuoka High Court’s Naha and Miyazaki branches. The Hiroshima High Court, in a case separate from Monday’s, followed suit.

Following the Lower House election, two groups led by lawyers filed a total of 16 lawsuits with 14 high courts or their branches, arguing that the election should be invalidated.

The Hiroshima High Court ruled Monday that the election results would not be invalidated until Nov. 26, one year to the day after a Lower House council began work on revising single-seat electoral districts.

The Diet enacted a law in November to reduce the disparities by cutting the number of single-seat districts in the Lower House to 295 from 300, but the December election was conducted with the same electoral districts as in the 2009 contest.