National / Politics | KANSAI PERSPECTIVE

Redrawing of Nara's electoral map may force internal affairs chief into rematch with DP's Mabuchi

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

The Cabinet’s decision last week to approve the redrawing of Japan’s electoral map by eliminating one Lower House district from each of six prefectures (Aomori, Iwate, Mie, Nara, Kumamoto and Kagoshima) is the central government’s response to a declining population that is increasingly concentrated in urban areas and to the vote disparity between rural voters and city dwellers.

The changes in the single-seat electoral districts, which were submitted to the Diet, reflect a panel’s recommendations to the prime minister last month.

“I will do my best to pass the legislation at the earliest date to rectify vote disparities,” internal affairs minister Sanae Takaichi, who is in charge of drafting the legislation, told a news conference on May 16.

But as a lawmaker, Takaichi, who represents the Nara No. 2 district, which includes the cities of Ikoma and Tenri, would also be affected by the electoral changes.

The city of Nara is part of the No. 1 district. The realignment for Nara Prefecture means that Ikoma, where Takaichi has her local electoral office, would join Nara as part of a newly reshaped No. 1 district.

The new No. 2 district would include Tenri and other towns and villages to the south of Nara and Ikoma, which are both on the prefecture’s northern border.

The next Lower House election, therefore, for the only seat in the new Nara No. 1 district would pit Takaichi against veteran Democratic Party lawmaker Sumio Mabuchi, who represents the current Nara No. 1 district. It was Mabuchi who defeated Takaichi back in 2003, forcing her to move to Ikoma and run in the No. 2 district.

She won that seat in the 2005 election. Since then, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has failed to dislodge Mabuchi, though Takaichi won her district in 2014 with 46,000 more votes than her two competitors combined.

Farther south, Nara’s realignment means the rural, mountainous areas that comprise about three-quarters of the prefecture would have only one candidate representing them. In terms of population distribution, the three new districts would be roughly equal. There would be roughly 470,000 people in the No. 1 district, 460,000 in the No. 2 district, and about 430,000 in the No. 3 district.

For his part, Nara Gov. Shogo Arai, who has the support of the LDP, welcomes the realignment. “From the point of view of reducing voter disparity rates, it’s a practical step,” he said earlier this month.

That disparity is expected to grow further.

In 2010, Nara Prefecture’s population was about 1.4 million. By 2060, it’s expected to fall to about 1.05 million, with the heaviest drop predicted to take place in the towns and villages in what would be the new No. 3 district.

Unlike the cities of Nara and Ikoma, train access to Osaka and Kyoto from the No. 3 district is extremely limited, offering little hope of a huge influx of urbanites from surrounding prefectures in the coming years.

The proposal, including the reduction in Nara, will now be taken up by the Diet. The ruling LDP-Komeito coalition aims to pass it by the end of the current session on June 18.

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