National

Tokyo court finds July election vote weight disparity unconstitutional but results stand

Kyodo

The Tokyo High Court on Wednesday ruled unconstitutional the disparity of up to 4.77 times in the weight of votes in July’s Upper House election, while dismissing the plaintiffs’ demand that the poll results in Tokyo and Kanagawa prefectural constituencies be nullified.

The Matsue branch of the Hiroshima High Court found the same day that the vote weight disparity in the House of Councilors election was “in a state of unconstitutionality” but rejected the plaintiffs’ demand that results in the Tottori and Shimane prefectural districts should be invalidated.

The rulings are among similar lawsuits filed with 14 high courts and their branches nationwide by lawyer groups. The final ruling in the series of lawsuits will be issued by the Akita branch of the Sendai High Court on Thursday.

So far, the Hiroshima High Court’s Okayama branch has ruled that the election results in the Okayama constituency should be invalidated due to an unconstitutional disparity in the weight of votes, while the Osaka High Court has found the disparity unconstitutional but declared the results in six western Japan districts were valid.

The other courts ruled that the vote weight disparity was “in a state of unconstitutionality” but stopped short of invalidating the election results.

Presiding Judge Kenta Suzuki of the Tokyo High Court said the Diet only implemented “temporary corrective measures” in November last year through minor changes in the allocation of seats to prefectures and the wide vote weight disparity “cannot be overlooked.”

Referring to a 2009 Supreme Court decision calling for comprehensive Upper House electoral reform, Suzuki said the failure to carry out drastic electoral reform “goes beyond the Diet’s discretionary power” and thus “violates the Constitution.”

But he said the Tokyo court refrained from invalidating the July election results out of concern for the consequences.

Presiding Judge Ihei Tsukamoto of the Matsue branch of the Hiroshima High Court determined that there was “excessive inequality” in the weight of votes, which posed a question of constitutionality. But he acknowledged that the Diet needs time to reform the electoral system.

In October last year, the Supreme Court ruled the maximum disparity of five times in the weight of votes in the 2010 Upper House election was “in a state of unconstitutionality” and called on the legislature to carry out fundamental reform.

However, the vote weight disparity only slightly fell to 4.77-fold in the July contest as a result of minor amendments to the election law in November last year. The revised election law states that deliberations on fundamental reform of the electoral system should be concluded before the next Upper House election in 2016.

The disparity in the number of eligible voters per Upper House member stood at 4.77-fold between the Hokkaido constituency, which has the most voters, and the Tottori constituency, which has the fewest. It translates into a ratio of 1-to-0.21 in the weight of votes between the two constituencies.

In Tokyo and Kanagawa, the disparities were 4.47-fold and 3.82-fold, respectively, compared with the Tottori district.

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