Delay in electoral reform

In dissolving the Lower House in mid-November, the Liberal Democratic Party, Komeito and the Democratic Party of Japan agreed to discuss election system reform for the Diet chamber and a reduction in the number of Lower House seats. But the talks among them are not making any progress.

They should start discussions at once to drastically change the election system because, under the current system, there is a great discrepancy between the number of votes a party could receive and the number of seats it could win. The current system combines single-seat constituencies and proportionally represented multi-seat constituencies.

There is a view that the LDP, which won overwhelmingly in the Dec. 16 Lower House election, has lost interest in electoral reform. No political party should evaluate the election system according to whether it can enjoy an advantage from it. An election system is for choosing representatives in a fair and rational manner.

Since the current election system puts a lot of weight on single-seat constituencies, a party that defeats other parties even by a small margin could obtain a disproportionately large number of seats. This system results in bringing about a change of government, but wastes many votes in the process.

For example, the LDP gained 294 seats in the Dec. 16 election after receiving 43 percent of the votes cast in single-seat constituencies and 27.6 percent of the votes in proportionally represented multi-seat constituencies. The DPJ got only 57 seats after receiving 22.8 percent and 15.9 percent, respectively.

Some favor a revival of the multi-seat constituency system in which several candidates would be elected according to the number of votes they have received. This system could encourage faction-based politics within the same political party. But the upside is that it could help politicians concentrate on long-term and nationwide policies without falling under the sway of particular interests in the constituencies, as it tends to return the same candidates to the Diet each time an election is held.

Giving a lot of weight to proportional representation or introducing a mixed-member proportional representation system — under which parties get seats in proportion to their votes while candidates who have won in single-seat constituencies get priority when seats are distributed among party candidates — would help to reflect minority views better in the Lower House.

In discussing electoral reform, political parties should take into account those two points and try to create a reasonable system. They also should refrain from introducing a complex election system that’s hard for voters to understand.

Currently, the electoral systems for the Lower and Upper houses are very similar. To distinguish the roles of the two Diet chambers, political parties should try to devise mutually different election systems for them.

The DPJ wants to reduce the number of Lower House members elected through proportional representation by 75. This is out of the question. It would mean reducing the number of people’s representatives and lead to the suppression of minority opinions.