A few months ago, leaders of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party were concerned that the party could suffer a shocking setback in the Upper House election next year if Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori remained in power then. There were also widespread fears that the ruling coalition of the LDP, New Komeito and the New Conservative Party could lose its majority in the chamber.

LDP officials believed that the only way to avoid a debacle was to have Mori resign as prime minister and then contest the election campaign under a new leader. For lack of a plausible pretext for forcing Mori to resign, officials came up with the idea of taking advantage of litigation concerning an alleged police record showing he was caught in a raid on a brothel more than 30 years ago, while he was a university student. Tokyo police, however, declined to supply the record to the court, dashing the hopes of anti-Mori forces in the LDP.

But politicians will do anything and everything to get what they want. To win the 2001 election, they devised a bill to change the Upper House voting system. It would revise the roster system for candidates nominated in the proportional-representation section of the Upper House polls. Currently, parties preset the ranks of the candidates. Under the new system, the list would be unranked and voters would choose either a party or a candidate instead of only a party, as at present.

The proposed system is extremely difficult to understand. Few understand the system and few can explain its intricacies. As far as I know, no newspaper or television reports have given full explanation of the system and its impact on politics in an easy-to-understand format. All media reports agree, however, that the proposed system favors the LDP and the ruling coalition.

The LDP is reportedly planning to field famous personalities as candidates in the election, emphasizing their personal appeal instead of their party affiliation and treating them as if they were independents. If these candidates collect more votes than needed to win the election, the excess votes would be added to the votes for other LDP candidates. This would boost the LDP’s strength.

However, LDP officials embracing this idea are mistaken. Voters should be fully aware of which ticket individual candidates are running on.

I am more concerned about a possible revival of problems associated with the defunct national constituency system, in which many television and sports personalities ran. None of them had political qualifications. Beat Takeshi, the flamboyant entertainer and movie director whose name has been mentioned as a potential candidate, has spread bad manners and language in Japan. The fact that this person is mentioned as a candidate shows that the electoral-reform bill is fraught with problems.

I have nothing but praise for former Upper House President Juro Saito, who resigned recently after failing to mediate an agreement between the ruling and opposition camps over the proposed electoral reform. He tried to block the LDP’s corrupt Diet strategies in the confrontation. Mikio Aoki and Masakuni Murakami, LDP members of the Upper House, ignored Saito’s political conscience. They were obsessed with power and factionalism.

The media’s failure to offer in-depth reports and commentaries on the proposed electoral reform is disturbing. Have they done thorough research about the legislation? Are they trying to pander to the powers that be? Do they really think the proposed reform is good?

The Upper House election next year requires close scrutiny. I trust voters will exercise sound judgment in the election.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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