The tripartite ruling coalition is moving to submit to the Diet a bill for a new Upper House proportional-representation voting system that would allow voters to choose either individual candidates or political parties when casting ballots. The Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and the New Conservative Party will sponsor the legislation for revising the Public Offices Election Law. Under present plans, the reform will take effect in the election to be held next summer.

All opposition parties are opposed to the legislation, which promises to become one of the most important issues in the current extraordinary Diet session. There are a few serious problems with the bill.

First, it is intended to serve the interests of the ruling parties. The present voting system — in which voters cast ballots for political parties, and candidates are allocated seats on the basis of their position on party lists — limits the parties’ vote-gathering power.

Second, the bill would in effect restore the problem-plagued national-constituency system, which was abolished in 1982 because it made election campaigns costly.

Third, the bill’s sponsors are seeking to get it enacted in only two months, without substantive debate and even though other important bills will be pending, and to implement it six months later.

Electoral reform, so important to democratic politics, should not be rushed, but debated thoroughly by the ruling and opposition forces. If differences between parties are irreconcilable, a new electoral-reform commission should be established for careful discussions.

Under the present proportional-representation system, political parties prepare lists of candidates with assigned ranks. Voters cast ballots for political parties. Candidates are allocated seats on the basis of their position on party lists.

Under the revised system, voters will cast ballots for either a political party or an individual candidate from unranked lists submitted by the parties. Diet seats are assigned to political parties on the basis of the total votes cast for political parties and candidates. Candidates will be elected on the basis of votes collected.

The electoral reform was proposed following reports of a scandal involving Kimitaka Kuze, former chairman of the Financial Reconstruction Commission. Kuze had a favorable position on the LDP list of proportional-representation candidates during the 1992 Upper House election. He allegedly received a list of party members from a religious organization and had a condominium builder pay their membership dues. Kuze was forced to resign in July in connection with the scandal.

The affair exposed long-standing collusive ties among politicians, bureaucrats and corporate executives. Retired bureaucrats took favorable positions on the lists of proportional-representation candidates and won support from industries they had supervised.

If the new voting system is introduced, individual candidates’ campaigns will be an important factor in election results. The number of votes won by candidates in individual communities will become known, and the leaders of political parties will pressure the candidates to work hard. They will be under pressure to spend as much time and money as possible to publicize their names to voters, and problems associated with the defunct national-constituency system will be revived. In the former national voting district, some candidates reportedly spent as much as 500 million yen in a single campaign. Others died from hard campaigning.

The LDP is rushing to introduce electoral reform because it has been losing strength under the present voting system. It no longer has an independent majority in the Upper House, and has had to enter into a coalition with New Komeito. Until the 1980s, the LDP held 20 seats as a result of the proportional-representation section, but that strength declined to 15 in 1995 and 14 in 1998.

In the Lower House election last June, the LDP saw its proportional-representation seats decline to 56 from the previous 70. In recent elections, urban voters without party affiliations, who account for one-third of the total number of voters, have had a major influence on election results. An increasing number of voters refrain from voting for the LDP.

The LDP is hoping that under the revised voting system, famous candidates or candidates backed by strong supporters’ groups will garner more votes for the party. Komeito apparently has a similar objective. Even opposition groups reportedly will not totally oppose the new system if it strengthens them.

Electoral reform should be considered in connection with Upper House reform. The Electoral Reform Commission proposed in 1990 that a new Upper House proportional-representation voting system, similar to the pending proposal, be introduced to curb partisan politics in the chamber. If such a reform is introduced, care should be taken to avoid problems associated with the former national-constituency system.

Nobuo Tomita, professor emeritus at Meiji University, favors the new voting system, which gives voters freedom to choose either a political party or an individual candidate. He says the nation should be divided into several voting districts to prevent money-power candidates from getting elected.

Another electoral problem concerns vote-value disparity. The Supreme Court ruled Sept. 6 that a 4.98-to-1 disparity in the value of a vote from different prefectures in an Upper House election is constitutional. Five justices wrote a dissenting opinion. Justice Hiroshi Fukuda wrote that the court should rewrite its past rulings tolerating vote-value disparities of 3-to-1 and 6-to-1 for Lower House and Upper House elections respectively. In a stinging criticism of the Diet, he also said that the Parliament could no longer be relied upon to implement reform on its own. He called for a judicial review of the issue.

Tomita also says that Diet members should represent the Japanese people, not local communities. There should be no vote disparities and one vote should have the same value everywhere in the nation, he said. In his opinion, the latest Supreme Court ruling would not be acceptable in any other country.

The proportional-representation voting system should not be tampered with. The Diet should undertake a drastic reform of the system, including the number of seats assigned to each voting district, to better reflect the public.

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