Osaka – With Japan’s population becoming ever more concentrated in Tokyo and the capital’s surrounding prefectures, electoral districts are likely to be redrawn in ways that favor giving them more Diet representatives at the expense of less-populated regions.
That, in turn, has members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party wondering about their own future, as many of the party’s stalwarts have long relied on voters in more rural districts, where fewer votes are needed to win.
Census figures released Friday showed the nation’s population stood at 126,226,568 as of Oct. 1, falling by 0.7% over the last five years. While the rate of decline was smaller than five years ago, 38 of the 47 prefectures — most of them rural — saw a population decrease, as concentration in a handful of urban centers like the capital area continues. Tokyo, Saitama, Chiba, and Kanagawa prefectures are now home to nearly 37 million people, 30% of the country’s population.
As a result of the demographic shift, and as a way to address vote disparities that favor less-populated rural electoral districts, the government’s electoral reform panel is expected to soon start discussions to reallocate Lower House seats based on the so-called Adams method in a way that better reflects the population size of each prefecture.
While any changes would take place after a scheduled general election later this year, the panel is likely to recommend adding a total of 10 electoral district seats to five prefectures and taking away a total of 10 district seats in 10 prefectures.
Tokyo will get five of the 10 new seats, neighboring Kanagawa will get two, and Saitama, Chiba and Nagoya’s Aichi Prefecture will get one new seat each. The prefectures of Miyagi, Fukushima, Niigata, Shiga, Wakayama, Okayama, Hiroshima, Yamaguchi, Ehime, and Nagasaki will each lose a seat.
For proportional representation seats, the more crowded Kanto region could again benefit. Of the three additional seats planned, Tokyo will get two and the South Kanto district, which includes Chiba, Kanagawa, and Yamanashi prefectures, will get the other one. Tohoku, Hokuriku and Chugoku (which includes Hiroshima) will lose one seat each.
The decrease in mainly rural electoral district seats could hit the LDP hard.
The party holds all the Lower House seats in Shiga, Okayama, and Yamaguchi prefectures. In the 2017 election, the LDP won six of Hiroshima’s seven seats, two of Wakayama’s three seats, and three of the four seats each in Ehime and Nagasaki. In Tokyo, meanwhile, the LDP lost races in five districts in the 2017 Lower House election. The capital will go from 25 to 30 seats under the new plan.
More worrisome for the ruling party is that some of its most powerful Lower House members represent districts in prefectures set to lose seats, which could directly impact their own election efforts.
Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe represents a district in Yamaguchi and LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai a district in Wakayama. Former Foreign Minister and LDP Policy Research Council chair Fumio Kishida represents a Hiroshima district, while Ichiro Aisawa, chair of the party’s research commission on the election, holds an Okayama district seat.
“We accept the reality of a population shift,” Aisawa told a news conference Friday, although he added that the change in seat numbers and electoral districts could make it more difficult for voters to pick candidates.
But Abe reacted to the idea coolly, telling reporters Friday that it would have to be discussed with an urban-rural balance in mind.
On the other hand, powerful LDP members also represent prefectures where seats could be increased. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Akira Amari — a former revitalization minister and close ally of Abe — as well as COVID-19 vaccine rollout head Taro Kono and Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi, all represent districts in Kanagawa Prefecture, which stands to benefit from the planned seat additions.
Ultimately, the upcoming realignment could pit urban-based members against those in rural LDP strongholds as the party looks to maintain its grip on power even as the population gravitates toward larger, more politically diverse urban districts.
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