The Supreme Court on Oct. 17 ruled that in the Upper House election held in July 2010, the value of a vote between depopulated rural areas and populated urban areas was extremely unequal to the point of “giving rise to an issue of unconstitutionality.” Although the ruling stopped short of declaring the election results unconstitutional, the Diet must act quickly to rectify the vote-value disparity.

The top court provided concrete suggestions concerning how to reduce the disparity so that the will of the electorate will be more closely reflected in Upper House elections. It said that increasing the number of seats in some prefectures and decreasing that in other prefectures will not suffice. (An Upper House election combines electoral districts and nationwide proportional representation. Each prefecture serves as an electoral district).

In the 12 to 3 ruling, the Supreme Court called for a drastic change of the current election system, including dropping the system of making each prefecture an electoral district. It said that the Diet must “eradicate the situation of inequality that gives rise to the issue of unconstitutionality as soon as possible.”

In March 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that the Lower House election in August 2009, which brought the Democratic Party of Japan to power, also raised the issue of unconstitutionality but did not nullify the results.

In 1996, the Supreme Court handed down a similar ruling to the ruling this time concerning the Upper House election held in July 1992, in which the maximum disparity in the value of a vote was 6.59 to 1. The Diet carried out reapportionment two years after the election and the maximum vote value disparity was reduced to 4.97 to 1 in the Upper House election held in July 1995. In the July 2010 Upper House election, which the top court ruling dealt with this time, the maximum disparity was 5 to 1. Apparently the court is irritated by the Diet’s slow response in rectifying the disparity. Political parties must realize the gravity of the fact that the constitutionality of the last two elections is being questioned

The Upper House has passed a bill to increase the number of seats by four in urban areas and decrease that by four in rural areas, and it is now pending in the Lower House. The Diet should immediately enact it and then start the work to drastically reform the Upper House electoral system. The Lower House must waste no time in carrying out reapportionment as a Lower House election will be held within a year, and then it must start discussions on drastic electoral reform.

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