NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. – A court ruled Friday that the vote disparity in last October’s House of Representatives election was constitutional, in the first decision among a series of lawsuits challenging the results of the general election.
The Naha branch of the Fukuoka High Court dismissed plaintiffs’ call to invalidate the outcome of the election, in which a disparity in the value of votes between constituencies fell below twofold for the first time since the current system of single-seat electoral districts coupled with proportional representation was introduced in 1994.
Two groups of lawyers filed a total of 14 suits with high courts across Japan, claiming the vote gap violated constitutionally guaranteed equality and called for the nullification of the election outcome, in which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling coalition retained a two-thirds majority.
All of the high courts are expected to hand down rulings possibly by the end of March, and the Supreme Court is expected to rule on the matter by year-end.
At Fukuoka court’s Naha branch, plaintiffs had claimed the top court’s past rulings did not acknowledge a twofold gap in the vote disparity as any criteria.
An election board had disputed the plaintiffs’ argument, saying the vote weight gap in the October election was “significantly lower” than the 2.17-fold to 2.92-fold disparity judged by the top court as constitutional in the past.
In the lower house elections in 2009, 2012 and 2014, vote disparity ranged from 2.13 times to 2.43 times. The top court’s Grand Bench judged the outcome of all those polls as being “in a state of unconstitutionality.”
The ruling led to the revision of the Public Offices Election Law, under which six prefectures each lost one seat and electoral districts were re-drawn to reduce the disparity.
Of the 17 lawsuits filed with high courts on the 2014 general election with a vote disparity of up to 2.13 times, 12 courts considered the gap was “in a state of unconstitutionality” while four others ruled it constitutional and another said it was unconstitutional.