*Written by PPPC Visiting Fellow
Discussions on reforms of the election system will likely be
delegated to a third-party panel composed by intellectuals to be
established directly under the President of the Lower House. Such
discussions on the election system would often face difficulties
reaching a conclusion because it would directly influence destinies of
individual incumbent politicians and partisan politics.
Nonetheless, the current state of disparity in the weight of one vote
is doubtlessly ridiculous. Even under the new “0 increase, 5 decrease”
zoning held for the last Lower House’s small-district election, the
disparity remained to be as high as *1.998, and the gap seems to be
widening to more than double taking into consideration the most recent
population surveys in many constituencies.
Meanwhile, there were plural numbers of court ruling in the High
Courts denying constitutionality of the last Lower House election,
including two stepping into announcing invalidity of the election.
Furthermore, the Supreme Court stated in last November that the
election was in the state of unconstitutionality and the issue of
disparity in the weight of one vote is yet to be settled despite the
“0 increase, 5 decrease” measure given the “single separate seat”
distributed for every prefecture in advance.
*The “single separate seat” is a measure that the single-seat
constituencies are distributed to each prefecture proportionally to
their population after allocation of one seat in advance. The reason
behind the measure was to avoid a large and radical reduction of the
Diet seats in the decreasingly populated prefectures when the
lawmakers discussed and arranged the introduction of the
small-constituency system, and that the election system reform was
impossible without such an arrangement in the political situation at
the time of electoral reform.
With regard to this “single separate seat”, in addition, the
Supreme Court in March 2011 demanded its abolition, stating that there
is no rationality to cause unfairness in one-vote value for regional
reasons. Under the current election legislation, although the “single
separate seat” provision has been deleted in appearance, the rule has
substantially been maintained, including in five prefectures which
only reduced the number of seats for that rule.
Facing such a situation, a group of lawyers seeking “one voter, one
vote” led by Hidetoshi Masunaga, voices that it is important that
Court explicitly states that the Constitution demands an universal
principle to realize elections that reflect population-balances to the
most possible extent.
Recently, five opposition parties (DPJ, JRP, Your Party, Yuinotoh,
People’s Life Party) on February 7 released a basic idea on the
election system reform (two ideas).
In particular, it entails
Plan A: Small-district seats should be reduced from the current 295 to
270 by 25. The 270 seats will be allocated to each prefectures
according to their populations while abolishing the “single
separate seat” measure both nominally and substantially
(maximum disparity would be *1.877).
Plan B: one Diet seat would be distributed for 0.5 million population
in each prefecture, which results to a reduction of 15 seats
from the current 295 to 280 maximum disparity would be *1.692).
According to these proposals, the disparity in one-vote would be
decreased to certain extents, but it must be said that the disparity
would remain largely still. Moreover, the idea is yet free from
considering the small-district Diet seats from the framework of
existing prefectures but from population-distribution in a true sense,
even if it abolished the “single separate seat” measure both
nominally and substantially. After all, it is not good enough from a
perspective of realizing a truly population-based election.
The ruling parties have actually released a plan to apply special
measures to second-or-lower parties in proportional representation
while reducing 30 proportional seats, by which the disparity in
small-district remains the status-quo. So the ruling camp’s plan is
in fact more problematic from such a perspective.
The current state of disparity in the weight of one vote is far from
the democracy in a real sense, even if the voting rights are naturally
restricted by current addresses. It is highly expected that a
third-party panel would propose truly drastic measures in line with
the basic principle of population-based election including
redistricting of constituencies. In advancing such proposals, it is
needless to say that selection of panel members is important, but let
me suggest here that a lawyer of “one voter, one vote” group should
be nominated as its member.