Democratic defense against abuse

Regarding the April 11 article “Ishin leaders, Abe meet on revising Constitution“: Once more, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has indicated his desire to revise Article 96 of the Constitution so that it can be amended by a simple majority in the Upper and Lower houses of the Diet rather than by the two-thirds majority required at present.

This is purportedly a democratic reform, although Abe has made it clear that his long-term goal is revision of the war-renouncing Article 9. But is it democratic?

Last December’s general election turnout was just less than 60 percent of eligible voters. Thus, if the number of Diet members elected were proportional to the overall vote, revision of Article 96 would mean that a change to the Constitution could be effected by members representing the wishes of only 31 percent of the electorate. As it is, disparities between electoral constituencies mean that votes across Japan are not of equal value, as recent high court rulings have recognized.

Abe has stated that a vote-value disparity of 1 to 1.999 is acceptable. If this is factored in, it could mean that perhaps as little as 25 percent of the electorate could end up actually supporting an amendment to the Constitution that passes by a simple majority of Diet members.

The two-thirds rule is there for good reason: It provides continuity and stability, offering a robust democratic defense against opportunistic abuse.

If voting were a mandatory civic responsibility and every vote were equivalent (one person meant one vote), there might be some justification for revising Article 96. Under the present system, though, revision of the article threatens the underpinning of democracy in Japan: that the people, not politicians, are sovereign, that it is the people’s wishes that are reflected in legislation and the people’s interests that are protected by the Constitution.

nick wood
koshigaya, saitama

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.