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Wednesday, Sep. 5, 2012

Calls grow to revive multiseat elections


Calls are growing among both ruling and opposition camp lawmakers for reinstating a multiple-seat district system for the Lower House by abolishing the single-seat system amid stalled Diet debate on voting reform.

"Many people probably find problems with the current election system, (which was) aimed at making a change of regime possible between two major parties. The multiple-seat system needs to be carefully studied anew," Sadakazu Tanigaki, president of the Liberal Democratic Party, said in July.

Under the multiseat system, three to five lawmakers were elected in each district. This meant votes could still count for something even if they didn't go to the first-place finisher. It was long a feature of Lower House elections except for a brief period soon after World War II.

But several candidates from the same party would run in each district, so they had to compete with each other as well as candidates from other parties, and they tended to resort to checkbook politics. The current single-seat system, combined with proportional representation, was introduced in 1994.

While five general elections have been held under the current system, calls for revision were triggered by a suprapartisan group of lawmakers formed last November to seek drastic reform of the Lower House election system.

"The single-seat system has destabilized politics," said Koichi Kato, a former secretary general of the LDP and a leading member of the group, noting that as many as 10 prime ministers have been inaugurated since its introduction. In short, the system tends to result in populist politics, he charges.

Candidates "refrain from saying what they really want to say as they need to win 51 percent of the votes in their district," Kato said.

This view is spreading even to lawmakers who took the initiative in introducing the single-seat system.

"I apologize to the public for supporting such a (faulty) system," said Kozo Watanabe, supreme adviser of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan.

Watanabe broke away from the LDP in 1993, together with Ichiro Ozawa, a former DPJ leader and now chief of the People's Life First party, by criticizing advocates of the multiseat system. Watanabe has assumed the post of adviser for the group pushing electoral reform.

The suprapartisan group has 165 members from a variety of parties, including New Komeito, the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party. At the LDP, Kato chairs an intraparty group set up in June to discuss resurrecting the multiseat system.

But the multiple-seat system had its share of problems, and some LDP members, especially younger lawmakers, question its reinstatement.

"Faction-led politics will return in the LDP if the multiseat system is reintroduced," warns Takeshi Iwaya, a former senior vice minister for foreign affairs. "Groups within the DPJ will completely become cliques as well."

Kazuhisa Kawakami, a professor of political science at Meiji Gakuin University who attended a meeting of the LDP panel led by Kato, said the electoral system should not be changed for "passive reasons."

At stake is "whether the issue can be discussed from the viewpoint of introducing new politics," Kawakami said, stressing the need for lawmakers to show they have an image for the future, such as a true two-party system.

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