Irresponsible of political parties to postpone fundamental reform again

Once again, fundamental reform of the election system has been postponed because of the ruling and opposition parties’ failure to coordinate the losses and gains involved. This is extremely irresponsible.

A council on House of Councillors reform, comprising representatives of the various parliamentary groups of the upper house, has compiled a report on the election system and other issues. Regarding integrated constituencies combining two neighboring prefectures, intended to correct vote value disparities, the report said that “there were many opinions that they should be eliminated.”

The parties that advocated the elimination of integrated constituencies were the Liberal Democratic Party and the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan. The parties have come to common ground that upper house members should represent their own prefecture.

Since the enactment of the Constitution, members elected from regional blocs have comprised a large portion of the upper house and are treated as representatives from prefectures. It could be one idea to regard upper house members as “regional representatives” to overcome the issue of vote-value disparity.

The fact that the largest ruling and opposition parties have come to a consensus can be said to be a certain amount of progress.

However, the report failed to present specific measures to dissolve the integrated constituencies, such as revising the Constitution to define the upper house members as regional representatives. It merely listed the claims of each party, including a proposal to create new larger regional bloc constituencies from the current prefecture-based constituencies.

It is problematic that the ruling and opposition parties have failed to reach any agreement after 13 rounds of discussions since the council was established in May last year. The council could be viewed as a mere “alibi” to avoid being accused of inaction in the reform of the election system.

After the election next month, the council should meet with new members to clarify the will of the upper house. If it cannot initiate reform, it needs to indicate that it will refer the matter to a third party and abide by its conclusions.

In the House of Representatives, the number of seats is expected to be reduced by one each for 10 prefectures, including Wakayama and Yamaguchi, in order to correct the disparity in vote values. Is it really appropriate to continue reducing the number of seats from regional areas in the upper house, as in the lower house, with a view to equality in vote values?

It is essential to discuss the reform of the election system based on the division of roles between the lower and upper houses.

At the council, Komeito and Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party) called for a system of large constituencies in which the entire country is divided into 11 blocs. Since such a system will increase the number of seats per constituency, it is believed to give advantages to medium and small parties. In such a case, the ruling parties may find it difficult to secure a majority in the upper house.

The Democratic Party for the People proposed reducing the overly strong power of the upper house and increasing the number of seats as a measure to correct the vote value disparity.

In many foreign countries, the power of the respective upper houses is greatly limited in order to ensure political stability. Per capita, the number of Diet members in Japan is lower than legislators in Europe. Both of the DPFP’s proposals are viable options.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 28, 2022)