There are a number of things wrong with the Japanese political system. One is the combination of the single-seat constituency and proportional representation systems to elect the members of the House of Representatives. I also believe that the present system of electing the members of the House of Councilors through a combination of constituencies and proportional representation is a violation of the Constitution.
First, let me take up the system that currently pertains in the Lower House. It was instituted on Jan. , 1994, when Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa headed the government. The purpose was to bring about a political system in which two major parties would alternate in governing. The first election under this system was held on Oct. 20, 1996. The total number of Lower House members was set at 500, of whom 300 were elected through single-seat constituencies and the remaining 200 on the basis of proportional representation. These members’ terms expire on Oct. 19 this year, which means that the House of Representatives will be dissolved for a general election before that date. A few years ago, many thought that the new electoral system would result in the creation of two major political parties; however, this has not happened. We are stuck with the same old situation of many small parties vying with one another and making coalition governments inevitable.
Ever since the 1996 election, the dream that two major political parties would materialize has proved elusive, and small parties have continued to meet and split, resulting in coalition governments of varying combinations. Today’s government is based on a tripartite coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party, the Liberal Party and Komeito; only a few years ago, the combination was among the LDP, the Social Democratic Party and New Party Sakigake.
The political parties have completely ignored the will of the people, as expressed at the ballot box, and formed coalitions as they felt like it. In other words, there has been a total gap between the popular will and the behavior of political parties. The politicians are so afraid of losing in the next general election that they have formed groups (unauthorized by the voters) in order to stay in power. This kind of situation is intolerable; the citizens must not permit the politicians to continue doing as they have been.
When the Public Offices Election Law was instituted, many people — including journalists, academics and business leaders — anticipated an era characterized by a two-party system on the strength of the single-seat constituency system. However, the completely opposite situation now prevails. Editorial writers and TV news commentators, who were so naive as to insist that the single-seat constituency system was the key to realizing a two-party system, should be ashamed of themselves and apologize to the voters. The same goes for those politicians who advocated the the single-seat constituency system on the grounds that it would facilitate the implementation of political reforms. Their lack of foresight has now been proved.
At the time, a number of politicians including Koichi Kato, Taku Yamasaki, Junichiro Koizumi, Yoshinobu Shimamura, Yasuhiro Nakasone and Takako Doi opposed the single-seat constituency system. But they were unable to check the media pressure in favor of its adoption. As a result, on Jan. 28, 1994, a meeting was held between Prime Minister Hosokawa and Yohei Kono, then the LDP president, through the good offices of Doi, who was Lower House Speaker, and they agreed on the adoption of the new electoral system.
The new system has failed to bring about a two-party system. Instead, what we have today is a tripartite coalition of the LDP, the LP and Komeito, while the opposition camp is composed of three other parties — the Democratic Party, the Social Democratic Party and the Communist Party. The next general election will be fought by at least these six parties, with no prospect of the creation of a two-party system in sight.
There is another problem, too, with the current system of single-seat constituencies and proportional representation. It is utterly illogical that a candidate who has lost in the constituency sector can then get elected on the basis of proportional representation. This is as ridiculous as a dead man coming out alive out of his coffin.
Moreover, the constitutional provision that Diet members must be elected by voters is being violated, because each political party lists its candidates for proportional representation in such a way that those ranked higher get priority. This deprives the voters of the right to elect the candidates of their own choice. Equally unreasonable is the proportional-representation system used in the House of Councilors. The Upper House is charged with the task of amending inappropriate actions taken by the Lower House. Yet, because the same electoral law is applied to both Houses, the Upper House has become the same kind of arena for intraparty fights as the Lower House. The only difference between the two Houses is in the number of their members; the functions they perform are identical. This slows down, rather than speeds up, political processes. This leads me to believe that either the House of Councilors should be abolished or an entirely new method should be adopted for the election of Upper House members. We do not need two bodies that function in the same manner.
We might be better off with a unicameral system. In 1945, immediately after the end of World War II, the Occupation forces proposed that the Japanese legislature should be composed of one chamber.
I am inclined to conclude that what is best suited to this country is the time-honored multiseat constituency system. Between the beginning of the Showa Era and the 1996 election, Japan held 26 general elections, of which one was based on the large constituency system, one on the single-seat constituency system, and the remaining 24 on the medium-size multiseat constituency system. Throughout this lengthy period, the Japanese political scene was typically dominated by two parties: Seiyukai and Minseito before the war and the Liberal Democratic Party and the Socialist Party after it.
This proves that a single-seat constituency system is not a prerequisite for a two-party system. Ever since the first general election was held in 1890, Japan has held only seven general elections under the single-seat constituency system, including the 1996 poll.
The Japanese people are not used to the single-seat constituency system. Although it may not be possible to change the existing election law in time for the next general election, I believe it would be beneficial to readopt the medium-size multiple-seat constituency system for ensuing general elections.
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