National / Crime & Legal

Cabinet OKs bill that would bring vote weight disparity within constitutional threshold

Kyodo

A bill that would reduce vote weight disparity to a constitutional level by revising Lower House single-seat districts won approval Tuesday from the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Based on population projections for 2020, the changes would bring the maximum disparity between densely and sparsely populated districts down to 1.999 to 1.

That is just under the 2-to-1 threshold that the Supreme Court has established under the Constitution’s guarantee of equality for all under the law.

The disparity in the 2014 Lower House election was 2.13 to 1, prompting the top court to rule that the vote was “in a state of unconstitutionality.”

The government and ruling parties will aim to get the new bill enacted before the current Diet session ends on June 18. The revised boundaries are expected to come into force around July following a month-long waiting period.

Reflecting an expert panel’s recommendations presented to the prime minister last month, the bill would see six prefectures lose one seat each, while electoral district lines in Tokyo and 18 prefectures would be redrawn.

The six prefectures are Aomori, Iwate, Mie, Nara, Kumamoto and Kagoshima.

The bill would also cut four seats from certain Lower House proportional representation blocks.

Proportional representation currently accounts for 180 of the Lower House seats, while the other 295 are elected from single-member districts.

The change is expected to defer the next Lower House election until at least this fall.

The prime minister has the sole discretion to dissolve the chamber for an election at any time, but he will likely be reluctant to do so until his Liberal Democratic Party sorts out its strategy for the districts affected, most of which are currently held by LDP lawmakers.

“The arrangements will take time, so it would be difficult to dissolve the Lower House for a while,” a senior member of the LDP’s ruling coalition with Komeito said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the government’s top spokesman, refused to rule out the possibility of Abe dissolving the body during the waiting period after the bill is passed.

But such a move could alienate voters expecting the Abe administration to faithfully commit to reducing the vote weight disparity.

Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Sanae Takaichi told a news conference that the government will “do all we can to quickly enact (the bill) in order to rectify the population disparities between electoral districts as soon as possible.”

The ruling coalition is hoping to start deliberations on the bill next week and get it through the Lower House by the end of this month.