• Kyodo

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The Okayama branch of the Hiroshima High Court on Friday turned down a lawsuit seeking to void the July Upper House election because of the gap in vote values between lightly populated and densely populated constituencies.

The decision was the first for 16 lawsuits filed with high courts across Japan by two groups of lawyers after the July 10 election. They are arguing that the vote weight disparity of up to 3.08 times violated equality under the law as stipulated in the Constitution.

Although it did not void the election, the Okayama branch said the disparity was “in a state of unconstitutionality.”

Plaintiffs immediately appealed the decision to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that the 2013 Upper House election, in which the vote disparity between the most and least populated constituencies was as high as 4.77 times, was “in a state of unconstitutionality,” urging the Diet to reconsider the traditional demarcation of the chamber’s electoral districts along prefectural borders.

In response to the top court’s ruling, the Public Offices Election Law was amended to merge two pairs of less-populated prefectures — Tottori and Shimane, and Tokushima and Kochi — into two constituencies. The election this year was the first to be held after the merger.

As a result, the worst gap in the value of each vote was narrowed to 3.08 to 1.

In the ruling, presiding Judge Kiyotaka Matsumoto said the Diet’s effort to narrow the gap was “insufficient to address the state of substantial inequality.”

But Matsumoto offered measured approval of the effort, saying that “it cannot be said the failure to end the state of inequality went beyond the Diet’s discretionary power and was therefore illegal.”

After the ruling, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the government will examine the decision before deciding what to do.

Friday’s ruling concerned a suit seeking to nullify the result of the election in Okayama Prefecture. Between Fukui and Okayama prefectures, the gap in the weight of each vote was 2.43-fold, according to the plaintiffs.

The election law stipulates that lawsuits involving the validity of the results of a national election bypass district courts and are initially tried at high courts.

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