Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is right to suggest amending the Constitution to allow the people to elect the prime minister directly. The government of Japan currently lacks the ability to make quick and firm policy decisions. The Japanese tradition of decision-making by a consensus of powerful individuals ensures that the same parliamentary system that provides strong leadership in Britain fails to work in Japan.

“Shadow shoguns” in Japan dilute the authority and capability of the prime minister to make the quick and effective decisions necessary for governing any large modern democracy. Power is so diffused among powerful politicians and bureaucrats that difficult decisions cannot be made. When powerful men disagree, there is no commonly accepted procedure for forcing a decision to be made. No one has the authority to speak and act for Japan.

Since the Japanese are unlikely to change decision making by a consensus of powerful individuals, Koizumi is right to suggest a modification of the constitutional structure to give the person holding the office of prime minister more influence and authority. Amending the Constitution to make the prime minister directly elected by all of the people would do much to give Japan the strong leadership it needs.

What form should Koizumi’s proposed amendment take? Here is a suggestion.

First Article of Amendment

The prime minister shall be directly elected by the people in a separate and simultaneous election whenever there is a general election of the House of Representatives. Each electoral district used in the election of members of House of Representatives (currently 300) shall have one district vote that shall be cast for the candidate for prime minister receiving the largest number of votes by citizens in that district. The Emperor shall appoint as prime minister the candidate receiving the largest number of district votes. In a tie vote, the prime minister shall be selected by the newly elected Diet in accord with Article 67.

All candidates for prime minister must be nominated by a petition signed by at least 50 members of the current or just dissolved House of Representatives and must themselves be members of the current or just dissolved House of Representatives. A person elected prime minister shall, by virtue of that election, be a member of the House of Representatives. A person may, but need not, run simultaneously for prime minister and for a seat representing a district in the House of Representatives.

Whenever there is vacancy in the post of prime minister, whether by resignation, death or incapacity, or whenever the House passes a nonconfidence resolution, or rejects a confidence resolution, the prime minister shall resign, the House of Representatives shall be dissolved, and a new House shall be elected in accord with Article 54 and, simultaneously, a new prime minister shall be elected in accord with this Article of Amendment. A prime minister may run to succeed himself or herself as prime minister. No person shall serve more than a total of nine years as prime minister in his or her lifetime.

The purpose of this amendment is to strengthen the office of prime minister within a parliamentary system, not to set up an independent executive branch as in the United States. The executive power under the current Constitution is vested in the Cabinet (Article 65), which consists of the prime minister and the other ministers of state (Article 66) who are appointed by the prime minister and may be removed by him as he chooses (Article 68). None of this would change.

Under the proposed amendment, the prime minister would be elected using the same districts as the House of Representatives. Japan now elects 300 members of the House in single-member districts using a first-past-the-post system. In addition to voting for a candidate for district representative, Japanese citizens cast a second vote for a party. Two hundred more representatives are elected from party lists on a proportional representation system. My proposal would add a third vote for prime minister. In the single member districts now used for 300 of the 500 members of the House, the winner of the vote for representative in that district would normally be of the same party or coalition of parties as the winner of that district’s vote for prime minister. Thus, normally, a prime minister would belong to the party or coalition of parties with the largest representation in the Lower House. If a newly elected prime minister did not enjoy the support of a majority of the newly elected House, either the House or the prime minister could force a new election immediately — the House could vote no-confidence, or the prime minister could resign.

The requirements that all candidates for prime minister be themselves members of the current or just dissolved House, and that they be nominated by at least 50 members of the current or just dissolved House, are designed to prevent outside celebrities, even popular prefectural governors or members of the House of Councilors, from being elected prime minister without first becoming a member of the Lower House and enjoying the support of a substantial number of Lower House members. The intent of the amendment is not move Japan to a U.S.-style presidential system but to increase the effectiveness of Japan’s current parliamentary system.

The proposed amendment would prevent a change in prime ministers without a general election of the House of Representatives. The prime minister would be chosen by the people and could not be removed against his will so long as he could muster a majority of votes in the House. If he did resign voluntarily or was removed by a vote of no confidence, both he and all of the House would have to go back to the voters for a fresh mandate in a new election. The new amendment would strengthen the political independence and authority of the prime minister, yet keep him or her firmly under democratic control.

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.