The Tokyo High Court on Nov. 17 ruled that the July Upper House election was unconstitutional because the maximum vote-value disparity between electoral districts was as high as 5 to 1. Although the court stopped short of nullifying the election results, reform of the Upper House election system is inevitable.

In late December, Upper House President Takeo Nishioka proposed abolishing the current single- or multiseat electoral districts, which exactly overlap prefectures, and dividing the nation into nine blocs of proportional representation based on the open-list system. The number of Upper House members would be kept at the current 242, with room for a future reduction. At present, 146 Upper House members are elected from electoral districts and 96 others through proportional representation covering the whole Japan.

The nine blocs would be Hokkaido with 12 seats, Tohoku (18 seats), Northern Kanto and Shinetsu (22 seats), Southern Kanto (44), Tokyo (24), Chubu (32), Kansai (40), Chugoku and Shikoku (22) and Kyushu and Okinawa (28). The maximum vote-value disparity will come down to 1.15 to 1.

New problems may arise. People are used to the idea that Upper House members elected from the current electoral districts are representatives from their prefectures, each of which has its own social and historical backgrounds. Both residents and Upper House members elected from the electoral districts may resist Mr. Nishioka’s idea.

Another problem is that candidates from populated areas will have a better chance to be elected than those from depopulated areas. Thus politicians from urban areas may be overrepresented in the Upper House, creating a political disparity between urban and rural areas. A pure proportional representation system may prevent one party from getting a majority in the Upper House, creating a permently divided Diet. Careful discussions are called for in changing the election system. Discussions on how to differentiate the Upper House from the Lower House in roles are also important.

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