Strains in Electoral System Should Not Be Left Unaddressed

Nearly 30 years have passed since major political reform laws were enacted. Strains have become conspicuous in the current election system and in the relationship between politicians and bureaucrats. The time has come to discuss a fundamental review.

The political reform laws, which changed the electoral system of the House of Representatives from a system of multiple-seat constituencies to the current system of single-seat constituencies with a proportional representation segment, were enacted in March 1994 through the agreement of the ruling and opposition parties. The legislation was intended to dispel the public’s growing distrust of politics, which had been heightened by the Recruit scandal among other incidents.

Over the past 30 years, the Liberal Democratic Party’s factions, which were regarded as a hotbed of money-based politics, have been weakened. Elections with more emphasis on parties have also taken root to a certain extent.

At the same time, it is often argued that politicians have become mediocre. In the legislation, it was envisioned that politics would become based on two major parties, but the current situation has become increasingly multiparty. It is clear that reality has diverged from the direction that the reform aimed to take.

Last month, to sort out issues in political reform discussions, an election system council set up by a group of six ruling and opposition parties interviewed two people who were involved in the 1994 agreement to get their assessment of the current situation. The two were Morihiro Hosokawa, who served as prime minister at the head of a coalition government at that time, and Yohei Kono, who was president of the then opposition LDP.

Hosokawa said that, since changes of government have actually occurred, “things are largely as expected.” Kono, on the other hand, raised the question of whether the system of individual candidates running in both single-seat constituency contests and the proportional representation segment is “supported by the public.”

Many voters are unconvinced that a candidate who was unsuccessful in the single-seat constituency election can also win a seat through the proportional segment.

But an even more serious problem is that single-seat constituencies are subject to redistricting after an election because correcting the vote-value disparity is greatly urged.

The judiciary has come to interpret the Constitution’s ideal of equality under the law as equality in the value of a vote and to emphasize the correction of disparities. Thirty years ago, there was no major discussion over the idea that problems were posed by the flow of population from rural areas to urban ones.

However, with depopulation and economic decline in rural areas, if the focus is solely placed on correcting disparities, the number of lawmakers from rural areas will continue to dwindle while the number of urban lawmakers will continue to swell. If the will of the people in rural areas is not reflected in politics, the very foundation of democracy could be shaken.

In addition to the electoral system, there are other issues to be addressed. With policymaking being increasingly led by the Prime Minister’s Office, bureaucrats are said to have become less motivated. Because the division of roles between the lower house and the House of Councillors is unclear, questions persist over the meaning of the two-chamber system.

Last year, a group of individuals including those from business and academia formed a council called Reinventing the Infrastructure of Wisdom and Action (ReIWA). The council plans to discuss such issues as the election system and the way the Diet should be arranged, and to make proposals to politicians.

The ruling and opposition parties should promote reform while listening to the voices of knowledgeable people.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 18, 2023)