Efforts to narrow the steep gap in the value of votes between constituencies in Upper House elections are going nowhere as the ruling Liberal Democratic Party remains unable to come up with a proposal due to internal discord that borders on personal recriminations between the party’s top leaders in the chamber.
Lawmakers in the ruling and opposition parties should realize that time is running out before they can correct the imbalances — judged by courts to run counter to the constitutional principle of equality — in time for the next triennial election of the Upper House.
Last week, Kensei Mizote, head of the LDP’s Upper House caucus, sacked Masashi Waki as secretary general of the caucus, effectively killing the proposal that Waki had earlier made for reform of the election system as head of the chamber’s council on electoral reform.
While Mizote has accused Waki of putting forward the proposal to the council without prior coordination within the LDP, Waki blamed Mizote for lack of leadership toward forging a consensus among reluctant party members on the issue.
Mizote reportedly tried to remove Waki from the position in charge of electoral reform by recommending him for a Cabinet post when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reshuffled his team on Sept. 3, but Waki is said to have turned down the offer.
The proposal Waki made in April called for redrawing the current constituencies, which are based on the nation’s 47 prefectures, by creating 11 new electoral districts that straddle two prefectures. Such a reform would reduce the maximum disparity in the value of votes between populous and less populous constituencies to 1.83 to 1, compared with 4.77 to 1 in the last election held in 2013.
The plan met instant objections from his LDP colleagues, including Mizote, who, unhappy that he had not been consulted over the proposal beforehand, charged that such a reform would put the LDP at a disadvantage. After its large wins in the last two Upper House elections, the LDP has many more members elected from rural constituencies subject to change than the other parties. Although modified proposals that would affect fewer constituencies were presented, opposition to them within the LDP remained strong.
But while rejecting Waki’s proposal, the LDP members remain unable to come up with a viable alternative that would address the severe vote-value disparity problem. They also do not appear ready to accept the plans put forward by other parties in the council’s discussions, such as redrawing the constituencies into regional blocs from each of which several Upper House members would be elected and creating regional proportional representation blocs.
Lawmakers involved in the discussions should feel a sense of crisis over the current conditions for Upper House elections in which a vote in a less populous constituency carries several times more weight than a vote in more populous electoral districts. Diet members elected from the less populous constituencies argue that redrawing the districts or cutting the number of seats allocated to their constituencies to correct the imbalances would result in the voices of rural voters not being heard. But they need to realize that the disparity in the value of votes is so serious that it distorts the representation of popular will in the legislature.
The Supreme Court ruled that the maximum 5-to-1 gap in the value of votes in the 2010 Upper House election was “in a state of unconstitutionality.” High courts around the country have handed down similar judgments with regard to the July 2013 election, in which the gap narrowed slightly to 4.77 to 1. The top court is expected to rule on the 2013 race by the end of the year.
As electoral reform would require advance notice and adjustments, time is running out before the reform can be introduced for the next election to be held in 2016. The LDP and other parties should immediately get down to real work.
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