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Friday, Dec. 28, 2012
Vote disparity remains a problem
The Liberal Democratic Party and its ally Komeito, which overwhelmingly won the Dec. 16 Lower House election, formed a coalition government Wednesday. But the election was held without rectifying the vote-value disparity that exists between depopulated rural and populated urban areas.
The Supreme Court in March 2011 had ruled that overall electoral conditions in the August 2009 Lower House election were inequitable to the point of "giving rise to an issue of unconstitutionality." Although the top court did not declare the 2009 election results unconstitutional, steps must be taken immediately to reduce the disparity in the value of a vote.
In the 2009 Lower House election, the maximum disparity in the value of a vote was 2.30 to 1. But it expanded to 2.43 to 1 in the Dec. 16 Lower House election. Following the election, lawyers and citizens filed lawsuits at 14 high courts and high court branches across the nation, calling for the courts to declare the election results in 27 single-seat constituencies null and void.
On Nov. 16, the day that then Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda dissolved the Lower House, the Diet enacted a bill to lower the vote-value disparity by reducing the number of Lower House seats assigned to five prefectures — Yamanashi, Fukui, Tokushima, Kochi and Saga — by one each.
It is deplorable that the Lower House election was held before actual reapportionment was carried out. Diet action has been too slow. Enactment of the bill, which itself is a makeshift measure, took one year and nine months after the Supreme Court's ruling.
When the courts consider the lawsuits filed in connection with the Dec. 16 Lower House election, the slow action by the Diet and the failure to carry out reapportionment will be important factors. The possibility cannot be ruled out that the courts will declare the election results null and void.
In the election, the problem inherent in the current election system, which combines single-seat constituencies and proportionally represented multiple-seat constituencies, came to the fore. Although the LDP won about 40 percent of the vote in the single-seat constituencies, it won nearly 80 percent of the seats assigned to such constituencies.
This difference suggests that about 40 percent of all votes cast in both single-seat constituencies and proportionally represented multiple-seat constituencies were rendered meaningless, and the voters who cast those ballots were deprived of the chance to have their stances reflected in the composition of the Lower House.
The Upper House has the same vote-value problem as the Lower House. After a Supreme Court ruling in October on the July 2010 Upper House election, the Diet chamber enacted a bill to increase the number of seats for four prefectures by one each and reduce that for four other prefectures by one each to prepare for the Upper House election to be held in the summer of 2013.
Past experience suggests that the political parties are incapable of reforming the electoral system because they put their own interests first. A third-party composed of experts should be established to carry out reapportionment as well as drastic electoral reform.