Don’t Forget that Democracy Comes at a Price

If an assembly has too many members, the number should be reduced. However, if seats are cut solely for the purpose of reducing the number, that would impair assemblies’ original function of reflecting diverse public opinions in politics and acting as a check on administrations.

The Osaka municipal assembly has revised an ordinance to reduce the number of its seats from 81 to 70. Regional political party Osaka Ishin, which won a majority in the municipal assembly for the first time in the April city assembly election, took the initiative in changing the ordinance, with the support of both the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito.

Under the new ordinance, one seat will be cut from each of the 11 constituencies with three to six seats. This formula will be applied from the 2027 election. The revised ordinance will reduce expenditures by about ¥200 million a year.

It is unusual for assemblies of the 20 government ordinance-designated major cities nationwide, including Osaka City, to reduce their seats by more than 10% at a time. As a result of the reduction, the population per Osaka municipal assembly member will be 39,320, second to Yokohama at 43,924.

In addition, the number of seats in the Osaka prefectural assembly, once 109, has been reduced to 79 as a result of efforts by Osaka Ishin.

Osaka Ishin may be aiming to broaden its support base among voters by racking up achievements related to its signature policy of “self-sacrificing reforms.”

If there is excessive spending related to political and other activities for assembly members, it is important to reduce the waste. However, if the belief is that the fewer assembly members the better, there would be no need for people to represent residents.

The reduction in the number of assembly members will make it difficult for the voices of the minority to be heard in assemblies. The very foundation of democracy could be shaken if efficiency is made the supreme objective.

On the other hand, an increasing number of local assemblies are reducing their assembly seats due to their declining populations. When considering a reduction in the number of seats, careful consideration should be given to maintaining the function of assemblies.

Osaka City is not the only place where “self-sacrificing reforms” are being touted.

Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party), the national party affiliated with Osaka Ishin, has called for the introduction of a unicameral system in the Diet, as well as reducing the number of Diet seats. Recently, Nippon Ishin leader Nobuyuki Baba said on an online program: “Even half the number of current Diet members would be enough. We’ll make efforts to introduce a unicameral system by merging the lower and upper houses into one.”

The bicameral system is meaningful in that it allows the Diet to more accurately reflect the will of the people and to ensure careful Diet proceedings. The fact that all the countries in the Group of Seven advanced nations have adopted bicameral systems is probably based on such thinking.

Democracy inevitably comes at a certain cost. In the first place, the number of Diet members in Japan in terms of the population ratio is lower than in European countries, so reducing the number of Diet members cannot be considered vital.

Voters support “self-sacrificing reforms” because they distrust politics. Diet members need to be aware of their roles and strive to meet the expectations of the people.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 4, 2023)