The ruling Liberal Democratic Party is facing a monumental challenge with a planned redrawing of single-seat constituencies for the powerful Lower House to correct disparities in the value of votes.
With many incumbent lawmakers expected to be affected by the seat reallocation, a mitigation proposal has been put forward. But Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who also serves as LDP president, will have to balance alleviating ruling party lawmakers' concerns with an earlier vow to see the reforms through.
There was a chorus of dissenting opinions about the constituency rezoning at a meeting of the LDP Research Commission on the Election System in December.
"The number of lawmakers from rural areas will fall, while that of lawmakers from urban areas will increase. We can't accept that. It goes against the national interest," one participant said.
The seat reallocation, to be carried out under the so-called Adams method and in line with 2020 census results, calls for eliminating one seat each in 10 prefectures, including Fukushima, Wakayama and Yamaguchi, and distributing them to Tokyo and four prefectures, including Kanagawa and Aichi.
The method, introduced as part of the 2016 Lower House electoral system reform law, is aimed at more accurately reflecting population distribution.
In the first group of 10 prefectures, incumbent LDP lawmakers are likely to compete against each other for the fewer number of seats in Shiga, Okayama, Yamaguchi and Ehime, where the ruling party swept to victory in last October's election.
In particular, attention is being focused on Yamaguchi, where the number of seats will be cut from four to three. The four LDP lawmakers elected from the western prefecture include heavyweights such as former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi.
"A considerable conflict will arise," a party source predicted.
In urban areas that stand to be allotted more seats, not all LDP chapters are happy.
In Tokyo, which will gain five additional seats, the existing 25 single-seat constituencies will be divided further, making it difficult for the party to select new candidates.
Amid confusion over the reallocation of the 10 seats, LDP lawmaker and Lower House Speaker Hiroyuki Hosoda put forward a proposal to mitigate the impact of the reform, calling for reductions of one seat each in Niigata, Ehime and Nagasaki prefectures and the redistribution of the three to Tokyo.
Reflecting concerns of LDP members worried about the planned rezoning, Hosoda criticized the use of the Adams method at an LDP meeting last month.
"A mathematical formula is not the only answer," he said.
The method, however, was adopted under legislation submitted by the LDP and its coalition partner, Komeito, at the recommendation of an advisory panel to then-Lower House Speaker Tadamori Oshima in 2016. The panel was set up after ruling-opposition talks on seat redistribution hit an impasse.
With no other political party currently siding with the LDP on its objections, the ruling party will likely be accused of partisan maneuvering if it moves to overturn the law-based Lower House seat reallocation.
Nobuyuki Baba, co-leader of opposition Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party), condemned Hosoda's remarks as "being driven by narrow interests, personal greed and the party's self-interest."
The Lower House committee on the demarcation of constituencies is expected to recommend a new electoral map to Kishida by June.
At a news conference in December, Kishida stressed his government's intention to submit to parliament a bill to amend the public offices election law to reflect the coming recommendation.
"From the government's standpoint, we must make the response needed, by implementing the current law firmly," he said.
An experienced LDP lawmaker has suggested that like-minded colleagues pile pressure on Kishida, saying that the issue of redrawing the electoral map will reach a critical point in the ordinary session of parliament set to kick off this month.
The reallocation of the 10 seats is likely to be an indicator of the power balance between Kishida and LDP lawmakers in months ahead.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.