EDITORIAL: Common sense lacking in Upper House electoral reform
The revised Public Offices Election Law was enacted on July 28, clearing the way for the implementation of a “plus 10, minus 10” formula to reform the Upper House electoral system. Under this formula for seat redistribution, the Shimane and Tottori constituencies are being merged, as are the Tokushima and Kochi constituencies.
For the first time in the history of Upper House elections, prefectural voting districts are being merged.
Thanks to the legal revision, Japan will at least not commit the folly of going ahead with the Upper House election next summer in disregard of the Supreme Court’s ruling in November 2014 that the 2013 poll in the chamber was held “in a state of unconstitutionality” due to disparity in vote value.
However, the revised law was approved in the Upper House plenary session on July 24 by a narrow margin of 131 to 103. And six Liberal Democratic Party legislators representing the four above-mentioned prefectures walked out before balloting, even though the amendment bill had been under deliberation for nearly two years.
It is fundamental to democratic procedures that the people’s elected representatives deliberate on issues thoroughly, coordinate conflicting opinions and reach a consensus that serves the public interest. And especially when the subject of discussion is the nation’s election system--which forms the basis of representative democracy--whatever decision that is reached must have broad, suprapartisan support.
But what stood out this time was the indolence of the ruling LDP that should have been leading the deliberations. Reacting only haphazardly to developments, the party presented a “plus 6, minus 6” formula that would have resulted in a vote-disparity ratio of more than 4 to 1. The LDP waited until there was only about one year left before the next Upper House election before going along, albeit reluctantly, with the “plus 10, minus 10” formula proposed by four opposition parties, including the Japan Innovation Party.
But even with this formula, the maximum vote-disparity ratio is 2.97 to 1. The grave question remains as to whether this really meets the constitutional requirement that all ballots be equal in value.
Komeito, the LDP’s junior coalition partner, co-sponsored with the opposition Democratic Party of Japan and others a bill calling for the creation of “10 merged constituencies.” With a vote-disparity ratio of 1.95 to 1 at most, this was obviously a better choice than the “plus 10, minus 10” formula in terms of reducing the vote-disparity ratio. But even though the Komeito-DPJ formula should be used at least for the Upper House election next summer, it was hardly discussed in the Diet.
In short, we, the sovereign people, were not even given a chance to get to know and think about this alternative. We were simply forced to accept the Diet’s decision.
The revised Public Offices Election Law comes with this supplementary provision: “Studies shall continue to fundamentally review the election system, and a conclusion shall be reached at all costs.” But except for the expression “at all costs,” this provision is merely a rehash of the supplementary provision that was attached to the election law revised three years ago, when the current election system was adopted under a “plus 4, minus 4” formula.
Whether the merging of constituencies is the best solution is subject to debate. Assuming Japan’s population will continue to shrink and people will keep moving to the big cities, the electoral map will have to be redrawn time and again, necessitating a series of stopgap mergers.
Is that really what this nation needs? To answer this question, we must discuss the fundamental question: What is the role of the Upper House?
But through all these years, Upper House members have failed to answer the question every time, and merely resorted to stopgap measures. When will those legislators ever realize how much they have damaged their own credibility and the image of the Upper House as “the seat of common sense and decency”?