OKAYAMA – The Hiroshima High Court ruled Thursday that the outcome of the July Upper House election in Okayama Prefecture should be invalidated due to an unconstitutional disparity in the value of votes between constituencies.
The decision by the court’s Okayama branch is the first among 14 similar lawsuits filed with high courts nationwide by groups of lawyers.
They argue that the disparity — in which some votes carried as much as 4.77 times the weight of others — in the nationwide July 21 Upper House election violates the equal-protection clause in the Constitution.
But Liberal Democratic Party member Masahiro Ishii, who represents the Okayama electoral district, will not lose his seat unless the Supreme Court sides with the high court ruling.
Presiding Judge Noriyoshi Katano accused the Diet of negligence in fundamentally correcting the inequality in the vote weight.
The Supreme Court ruled in October 2012 that the fivefold disparity reached in the weight of votes in 2010 left that year’s Upper House election “in a state of unconstitutionality.”
As a result of amendments to the election law last November, the disparity in the number of eligible voters per Upper House member between Tottori, which has the fewest voters, and Hokkaido, which has the most, was 4.77-fold.
Between Tottori and Okayama, the difference was 3.27-fold.
Katano said the 4.77-fold disparity is so close to the imbalance in the 2010 election that the inequality remains “hugely significant.”
According to the revised election law, deliberations to fundamentally reform the election system should be concluded before the next Upper House election in 2016. But Katano cast doubt on the Diet’s commitment to see this carried out.
“The Diet did not present a specific plan for drastic election system reform by the time the Upper House election was held (in July). It is quite unclear if (election system reform) legislation will be enacted before the next election,” Katano said.
The lawyers seeking the poll invalidation argued in the Okayama court that it was unconstitutional to hold the election before Upper House seats could be reapportioned to reflect district populations.
The defendant — the Okayama prefectural election board — countered that the disparity had at least been reduced and that it did not have enough time for drastic reform in the nine months between the Supreme Court ruling and the election.
Article 14 of the Constitution stipulates all people are equal under the law.
“It is a great ruling,” lawyer Hideaki Kubori said at a press conference, adding the high court decision “clearly states a person naturally is entitled to one full vote.”
The defendant, however, will appeal the ruling to the top court.
Thus LDP member Ishii will not lose his Upper House seat unless the Supreme Court finalizes the high court decision.
Responding to the landmark ruling, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters “it’s an extremely severe ruling.”
Suga added the government will “keep a close watch” on the decisions expected from other high courts by Dec. 26.
However, the separation of powers into the legislative, administrative and judicial branches means the matter is essentially one that must be decided by the Diet, Suga said.
“The prime minister has asked the Diet to handle (this issue). We’d like to keep watching reactions” of the Diet, Suga said.
“We intend to hold the next Upper House election under a modified electoral system,” said Masashi Waki, secretary-general for the LDP in the Upper House, while many others in the chamber have expressed the same need for electoral reform.
Lawsuits have also been filed to invalidate races with vote-value disparities of up to 2.43 times in the Lower House election of last December, when the LDP returned to power.
Ruling on one of the Lower House suits, presiding Judge Katano at the Okayama branch invalidated the election outcome in the Okayama No. 2 district.
On Nov. 20, the Supreme Court ruled the vote disparities in the Lower House election were “in a state of unconstitutionality,” stopping short of declaring the poll outcome outright violated the Constitution and should be invalidated.