In March 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that the August 2009 Lower House election was held in an unconstitutional state because of a large disparity in the value of one vote between depopulated rural areas and populated urban areas. Although the court did not nullify the election results, political parties must strive to quickly reduce the vote-value disparity so that the next Lower House election will be held in a constitutional state.

The possibility cannot be ruled out that Lower House will be dissolved this year, leading to a snap election. If the election is held without reapportionment, the Supreme Court may nullify the elections results, thus putting Japanese politics into confusion. In addition, Feb. 25 is the deadline for the Lower House apportionment panel in the Cabinet Office to submit a reapportionment plan to the prime minister.

In the current Lower House election system, 300 seats are distributed to single-seat constituencies and 180 seats for proportional representation. Talks among the parties on reapportionment are difficult because several factors are involved. While there is a call for narrowing the vote-value disparity without changing the basic structure of the current election system, there is also a demand for drastic reform to rectify problems resulting from the system itself.

In addition, the Democratic Party of Japan is trying to slash the number of seats from proportional representation by 80 as a sort of quid pro quo to be offered to the public in exchange for their acceptance of an increase in the consumption tax rate. But the parties must be careful about reducing those seats because it could lead to the disappearance of minor parties and the suppression of minority opinions.

The DPJ proposal also runs counter to the principle behind the current system, which is to dilute the defects of a single-constituency system by giving some weight to proportional representation. Under a pure single-seat constituency system, a winning party tends to gain a number of seats out of proportion to its real strength. The DPJ should not become preoccupied with its plan. The number of national lawmakers relative to Japan’s population is not large compared to other countries.

For now the parties should concentrate on decreasing the vote-value disparity within the current system, and discuss drastic reform of the system at a later date.

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