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The Supreme Court ruled Oct. 5 that the 2004 Upper House election was carried out in a constitutional way, despite a 5.13-fold disparity in the weight of one vote between the most populated electoral district and the least populated one.

But the Grand Bench’s 10-5 ruling holds the Diet to rectifying the situation. The ruling said that continuing efforts by the Diet to reduce disparity, including a review of the current elections system, are in line with the spirit of the Constitution. The Diet should take this as a call for speedy action to change the election system so that vote-weight disparity, if not eradicated, is at least reduced to a reasonable level.

Voters in Tokyo, Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures filed the lawsuit, saying the Upper House election held in July 2004 was unconstitutional. In that election, the number of voters per seat in Tokyo, the most populated electoral district with a population of about 12 million, was 5.13 times greater than in Shimane Prefecture, the least populated district with a population of about 600,000. The plaintiffs said the disparity violated Article 14 of the Constitution, which assures equality under the law for all people.

Diet members, especially Upper House members, should pay attention to the Supreme Court’s call for further studies to reduce vote-weight disparity, rather than to the court’s legal conclusion that the election was constitutional.

Under the current system, each prefecture serves as an electoral district, and an even number seats — two, four, six or eight — are allocated to each prefecture. This system is said to make drastic reduction in disparity extremely difficult. The Diet has taken measures to reduce disparity without changing the overall system. The Supreme Court’s call for reform may necessitate a new approach to the election system — including the creation of new voting districts not prefecture-based.

The government and political parties should exercise their ingenuity so that the voters can put their trust in the legitimacy of the Upper House election results.

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