National / Crime & Legal

Vote weight gap in July election ruled constitutional by top Tokyo court

Kyodo

The Tokyo High Court on Wednesday ruled the disparity in the weight of votes in the July Upper House election was constitutional, in the last of 16 similar lawsuits filed nationwide by groups of lawyers.

The ruling was the 14th stating that the disparity of up to three times in the weight of votes between the most and least populated constituencies was constitutional. The two other rulings said the election was held in a state of unconstitutionality but rejected the plaintiffs’ demands for the results of the July 21 House of Councilors election to be nullified.

The Supreme Court is expected to give a final ruling on the vote weight disparity next year.

Two groups of lawyers had filed a series of suits with 14 high courts and their branches across the nation, claiming the vote weight disparity violated the Constitution’s requirement for fair elections in terms of seats being proportional to the number of voters.

The defendants — the election boards of constituencies across the country — maintained the disparity was “not an extremely unfair condition that infringed on the Constitution.”

On Wednesday, the Tokyo High Court rejected the plaintiffs’ demand to nullify the outcomes of the election in the constituencies in Kanagawa Prefecture and Tokyo.

“The Diet has shown its path and its determination toward rectifying the disparity of the value of the vote,” said presiding Judge Masatoshi Murakami when handing down the ruling. He concluded by saying that the disparity is not in a state of inequality that undermines the Constitution.

The judge also dismissed the plaintiffs’ demand to void the proportional representation portion of the election. Japan introduced single-seat electoral districts coupled with proportional representation in 1994.

“(The current system) does not comply with the will of the citizens. We wanted the high court to hand down a vigorous ruling to raise questions at the Supreme Court,” said Kuniaki Yamaguchi, who is one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs intend to appeal to the top court.

“We will watch the trials carefully at the Supreme Court,” the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications said. Elections are under its jurisdiction.

The overall vote weight disparity was reduced from 3.08 in the previous 2016 Upper House election to 3.00 after the Diet passed legislation in 2018 to add six seats to the chamber and redraw electoral districts.

The top court ruled in 2017 that the 2016 Upper House election was constitutional.

In the July election, Miyagi Prefecture had the largest number of voters per candidate, while Fukui Prefecture had the least.