A makeshift reapportionment plan

The Lower House reapportionment commission on Thursday submitted to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe a recommendation aimed at rectifying the disparity in single-seat constituency vote values between depopulated rural areas and populated urban ones.

But the recommendation is simply a makeshift measure. As long as the population outflow from rural areas to urban areas continues, the recommendation will become out of date soon. The Diet must start serious efforts to ensure a fair distribution of Diet seats for a long time to come.

The recommendation came in the wake of 16 high court rulings that have found the Dec. 16 Lower House election either unconstitutional or “in a state of unconstitutionality” because the maximum disparity in vote values was too large — at 2.425 times. Two of the rulings went so far as to declare the election results in particular constituencies null and void.

In an attempt to reduce the vote-value disparity, the Diet hurriedly passed a bill to reduce one seat each in five prefectures on Nov. 16, the very day Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda dissolved the Lower House. So, the Dec. 16 general election was held without the actual reapportionment. The maximum vote disparity in the election was 2.425 times.

In March 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that the August 2009 Lower House election, in which the maximum vote disparity was 2.304 times, was “in a state of unconstitutionality” and that the disparity should be less than two times. It pointed out that the practice of first assigning one seat to each prefecture and then assigning seats to prefectures in accordance with their population size is responsible for causing the disparity. The ruling served as the basis for the 16 high court rulings.

Under the reapportionment proposal, one seat will be reduced in Yamanashi, Fukui, Tokushima, Kochi and Saga prefectures and new demarcations will be carried out for 42 constituencies in Tokyo and 16 prefectures. Thus the vote disparity between the least populated constituency — the new Tottori No. 2 constituency — and the most populated constituency — the new Tokyo No. 16 constituency — will be held down to 1.998 times — just below the 2.0 level mentioned by the Supreme Court.

The reapportionment commission in principle followed the traditional practice of assigning one seat to each prefecture before distributing other seats, in contradiction of the Supreme Court ruling. Its recommendation is an emergency measure and does not represent a drastic reform. Even so, the Diet has to pass a new bill to carry out the demarcation.

To ensure equitable representation in the Lower House, the Diet should not hesitate to increase the weight of proportional representation. At the same time, it must consider how to ensure fair representation from depopulated areas in the Lower House.

The Upper House also has a vote disparity problem. After passing the demarcation bill, the Diet should immediately start the work of drastically reforming the current election systems for both the Lower and Upper houses.