If Prime Minister Shinzo Abe goes ahead with a plan to dissolve the Lower House and call a snap election next month, it will likely cost taxpayers around ¥60 billion to ¥70 billion — on par with the annual budget revenues of Bhutan.
According to internal affairs ministry data, around ¥61.7 billion to ¥74.6 billion in taxpayer money was used in each of the last six Lower House elections, held between 2000 and 2014. Bhutan’s budget revenues in 2016 stood at $640.4 million, according to the CIA World Factbook.
The expenses go toward preparations, including making boards for candidates to put up campaign posters as well as the operation of election administration commissions, according to the ministry.
With more than a year left in the Lower House’s four-year term, some may question the decision to hold a costly election. But records show that the tenure of current Lower House members is actually longer than average.
If Abe dissolves the House of Representatives on Sept. 28 as reported, the tenure of current members will end at 1,020 days, which exceeds the average of 976 days, according to a report by the Yomiuri Shimbun.
In fact, Lower House members have served their full four-year term only once in the past — between December 1972 and December 1976 — under the reigns of former Prime Ministers Kakuei Tanaka and Takeo Miki.
The shortest tenure of Lower House members was 165 days between October 1952 and March 1953. Then-Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida dissolved the body following the passage of a no-confidence motion submitted by the opposition camp. The motion came after Yoshida said “baka yaro” — which can be translated as “idiot” — to an opposition lawmaker during a Diet session.
Masao Matsumoto, a professor of political science at Saitama University, said the total cost is not necessarily out of hand given that it is an event that involves more than 100 million voters.
“It’s about ¥600 per voter. It could be translated as a fee to participate in an election,” Matsumoto said. “The amount is not high for preparing and conducting an election accurately.”
The real issue, he said, is that despite the cost, voters will not be told the date of the election until the very last moment and will have only a short period of time to make decisions.
“There should be more time for preparation and for voters to make full-fledged judgment,” Matsumoto said. “But regardless of that, it’s important for them to understand it’s the only chance for them to take part in a very important decision-making process.”