Rezoning is an essential reform to correct vote value disparities

As demanded by the judiciary, it is a necessary reform to correct the disparity in the value of one vote. The government must ensure that legislation is enacted in the next Diet session.

The government’s panel of experts on constituency review for the House of Representatives has compiled a draft proposal for the rezoning of lower house single-seat constituencies and recommended to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida that the borders be redrawn for 140 constituencies in 25 prefectures. With the proposed rezoning, the maximum disparity in vote values will be reduced from 2.096-to-1 to 1.999-to-1.

The main pillar of the proposal is a 10-seat increase and 10-seat decrease, affecting 15 prefectures. The number of seats will be increased in Tokyo, Kanagawa and three other prefectures, while the number of seats in 10 prefectures, including Fukushima and Wakayama, will be reduced by one each. In 10 other prefectures, the proposal calls for rezoning constituencies without changing the number of districts.

To reduce vote-value disparities, it is essential to regularly redraw constituencies to reflect changes in the population.

After the 1994 introduction of the current lower house election system, which includes single-seat constituencies and proportional representation, a single quota method allocated one seat to each prefecture, and then distributed the remaining seats across prefectures. In 2011, the Supreme Court called for the abolition of this method, claiming that it had led to widening vote disparities.

In response, the Diet decided in 2016 to introduce the “Adams method” of apportionment of seats with more emphasis on population ratios. The question is whether it will be accepted by voters and take root. The next lower house election will be an important occasion.

The new method still allocates a relatively large portion of the seats to prefectures with small populations. Even so, the number of seats in the metropolitan area comprising Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures will increase by nine, accounting for nearly 30% of total seats in the single-seat segment.

The Liberal Democratic Party, which holds a large number of seats in prefectures where reductions in the number of seats are proposed, has complained that the opinions of rural regions will no longer reach national politics. The new method was decided at the initiative of the LDP, and objections to it at this time are unlikely to win understanding.

However, if the population continues to be concentrated in urban areas, the number of Diet members elected from rural areas will continue to decline. It is undesirable to leave this situation as it is.

Currently, there are 105 municipalities in 30 prefectures that are divided into multiple constituencies. The recommendation called for reducing the number of such cases to 32 municipalities. In the city of Tochigi, Tochigi Prefecture, and the city of Mihara, Hiroshima Prefecture, which were divided into three constituencies each, the constituencies will be unified so that those cities have one constituency each.

When deciding on zoning of constituencies, it is important to take into consideration the integrity of local areas, including transportation accessibility. It is commendable that the panel has meticulously reviewed the borders of constituencies and worked to eliminate the divisions.

There are many areas where constituencies will change as a result of a major rezoning. It must be ensured that there is no confusion for voters.

Relative to population, the number of lawmakers in Japan is lower than in European and other countries. It may be time to fundamentally examine a new election system, including increasing the number of Diet seats.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 18, 2022)