Switching from Upper to Lower House: House of Councillors’ Significance under Scrutiny

There are no restrictions on House of Councillors members running for the House of Representatives. But if many people do so, the public may view this as “looking down on the upper house,” and the House of Councillors’ presence would be further diminished.

The ruling and opposition parties intend to field a number of current upper house members as candidates in the next lower house elections. In each of the previous three House of Representatives elections, no more than three candidates were incumbent upper house lawmakers, but nine upper house members have already announced they will run in the next House of Representatives election.

Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) has the highest number, with four upper house members planning to run in the lower house election, including policy research chief Shun Otokita. Ishin plans to field candidates in all single-seat constituencies in the lower house election, so the party may be trying to secure enough candidates by selecting people from among its upper house members.

From the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, three upper house members are poised to run for the lower house, including former Olympic minister Tamayo Marukawa. Kanae Yamamoto, former state minister of health, labor and welfare, is planning to run from junior coalition partner Komeito, while Tomoko Tamura, policy commission chair of the Japanese Communist Party, intends to run from that party.

Each party tends to prioritize lower house elections, which serve to select the governing party or parties. Switching from the upper house to the lower house is not a new phenomenon.

In addition, the declining importance of the upper house during the tense political situations seems to have spurred moves to switch to the lower house.

During the times of so-called twisted Diets, in which the two chambers are controlled by different parties, developments in the upper house have influenced national politics. However, the LDP-Komeito coalition currently maintains a majority in the upper house, and political situations have been stable.

In addition, to correct disparities in the value of votes, the next lower house election will see the number of single-seat constituencies increased by 10 in urban areas, and decreased by 10 in regional areas. The parties apparently believe that incumbent upper house members with name recognition will have an advantage in urban areas, where there are many unaffiliated voters.

Under the current electoral system, new candidates will be needed one after another as seats in urban areas continue to increase with population shifts. Unless the electoral system is revised, there will probably be no easing of the trend of shifting from the upper house to the lower house.

Many lawmakers view the upper house of the Diet as a “lower rank” than the lower house. The Constitution stipulates the supremacy of the House of Representatives in voting on budgets and in electing the prime minister.

However, the House of Councillors, which is called the “chamber of reconsideration,” has the responsibility to constrain the House of Representatives and engage in debates in a rational manner. Member have long six-year terms of office for the purpose of discussing issues from a medium- to long-term perspective. This role should not be underestimated.

During the previous ordinary Diet session, an upper house member from the then NHK Party was expelled after he never appeared in the Diet following his election to the upper house. He was subsequently arrested on suspicion of such charges as intimidation. The authority of the upper house has been severely shaken.

The public is looking at the upper house with very critical eyes. Each party needs to seriously consider the proper state of the upper house.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 12, 2023)