More rulings against vote disparity

Nine high court rulings this week have declared that the apportionment for the Dec. 16 Lower House election was unconstitutional because the disparity in single-seat constituency vote values between depopulated rural areas and populated urban ones is too large. In total, 16 high court rulings on the general election have found it either unconstitutional or “in a state of unconstitutionality.”

This reflects the judiciary’s irritation over the delay in rectifying vote-value disparities. The Diet must take the rulings seriously and devise a lasting reapportionment proposal. A makeshift proposal must be avoided as it would only sow the seeds of future confusion.

Among the rulings, the Okayama branch of the Hiroshima High Court issued the strongest message to the Diet on Tuesday. It not only found the December election unconstitutional but also declared the election results in the Okayama No. 2 constituency null and void. The Okayama Prefectural Election Management Commission is expected to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court. If the top court upholds the ruling, the election in the constituency must be held again.

The Diet should pay attention to the fact that the Okayama ruling followed one made the day before by the Hiroshima High Court that found the December election unconstitutional, and decided that the election results in the Hiroshima No. 1 and 2 constituencies will become null and void after Nov. 26, 2013 — a year after the Lower House’s reapportionment commission started its work. The Hiroshima ruling gave the commission one year’s grace period to carry out reapportionment.

In March 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that the August 2009 Lower House election was “in a state of unconstitutionality” because the disparity in the value of votes between depopulated rural areas and populated urban areas was too large — at 2.304 times. But the Diet was slow in acting.

In an attempt to reapportion Lower House seats, the Diet passed a bill to reduce one seat each in five prefectures on Nov. 16, the day Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda dissolved the Lower House. The bill itself is a makeshift measure, and the Dec. 16 election was held without the reapportionment.

Pointing out that the vote disparity expanded to 2.425 times in the last Lower House election and that the number of constituencies where the disparity is 2.0 times or more increased from 45 to 72, the Okayama ruling said that the Diet’s failure to reapportion the seats in 634 days, between the time of the top court ruling and election day, suggests “extreme contempt” for the judiciary. It also said that when compared with the harm caused by the long continuation of the high disparity in the value of votes, the confusion resulting from the nullification of the election results in the Okayama No. 2 constituency is more acceptable.

Parties should refrain from engaging in time-wasting partisan politics on the issue of reapportionment as the Supreme Court may lose patience and nullify the results of the elections in constituencies that were the subject of the 16 lawsuits.