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Friday, Feb. 24, 2012
Disappointing delay in vote reform
The political parties will likely miss an important deadline in their efforts to reapportion Lower House seats. In March 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that the August 2009 Lower House election was held unconstitutionally because of a large disparity in the value of one vote between depopulated rural areas and populated urban areas. Under a relevant law, Saturday is the deadline for the Lower House apportionment panel in the Cabinet Office to submit a reapportionment plan to the prime minister.
Regrettably, secretary generals of the ruling and opposition parties on Wednesday failed to reach consensus on reapportionment. This has made it impossible for the panel to meet the deadline for presenting its reapportionment plan. The parties should hurriedly finish the reapportionment work under the current election system.
In the current Lower House election system, 300 seats are distributed to single-seat constituencies and 180 seats for proportional representation. In the single-seat constituencies, one seat is given to each of the 47 prefectures first and then the remaining 253 seats are distributed in proportion to the prefectures' population. The top court pointed out that this system distorts an equitable distribution of seats.
Mr. Shinji Tarutoko, acting secretary general of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, proposed to officials of other parties that the current system of distributing seats to single-seat constituencies be abolished and that the number of seats for such constituencies be decreased by five.
The latter part of the proposal is what the Liberal Democratic Party has been calling for and is designed to reduce the maximum vote value disparity to less than 2 to 1. Specifically, Fukui, Yamanashi, Tokushima, Kochi and Saga prefectures will each lose one single-seat constituency. The parties should first discuss whether this reduction of five seats is appropriate. Mr. Tarutoko also proposed slashing the number of seats for proportional representation by 80. But this would lead to suppression of minority opinions usually represented by small parties.
In addition to reapportionment under the current election system, introduction of a new election system may become an issue. The parties should consider leaving discussions to a third-party commission composed of experts and citizens.