Electoral System Reform: Is Reducing Vote-Value Disparities Sole Top-Priority Issue?

Continuing to obsess over correcting vote-value disparities will make it difficult for local voices to be heard in both the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors. How long do Diet members intend to turn a blind eye to the negative effects of this?

The ruling and opposition parties must speed up discussions on revising the electoral system.

The lower house electoral system council, chaired by lower house member Ichiro Aisawa, has released a report that lists the issues and points of contention concerning the current system, which combines single-seat constituencies and proportional representation. It was compiled by working-level members from six ruling and opposition parties after 16 meetings held last year.

The report states that the review of the system will aim to both correct disparities in vote values and also reflect the voices of local communities in national politics. However, it did not provide specific measures to achieve this goal, only pointing to “the need to further deepen discussions.”

In addition, the report urges the ruling and opposition parties to establish a new consultative body on the electoral system at the ordinary Diet session to be convened soon, and reach a conclusion by the end of fiscal 2025, when the results of the next national census are expected.

After nearly a year of debates between the ruling and opposition parties, the decision to leave the conclusion to the next body, without specifying any reform plans, is nothing short of appalling. Inevitably, it has been pointed out that they are merely pretending to be proactive about reform in order to avoid judicial rulings, such as findings of “a state of unconstitutionality” regarding vote-value disparities.

In the first place, it is impossible to both correct vote-value disparities and also reflect the voices of rural areas in national politics, as the population continues to flow from rural areas to urban areas.

In 2016, the Diet decided to introduce the so-called Adams method, in which population ratios are better reflected in the allocation of Diet seats in the reform of the electoral system for the lower house. This is because the judiciary has interpreted the concept of equality under the law as equality of voting values and is seeking to correct the vote-value disparities. The method will be applied from the next lower house election.

However, under the Adams method, there is a possibility that the zoning of lower house single-seat constituencies will be changed for each election. The number of Diet seats in urban areas could continue to increase, while the number in rural areas could only decrease. Can this be called a reasonable approach to representative democracy?

The Constitution stipulates that “matters pertaining to the method of election of members of both Houses shall be fixed by law.” The ruling and opposition parties should be aware of the significance of this provision and realize fundamental electoral system reform. The current system, under which regions with declining populations are forced to reduce their number of representatives, needs to be changed.

Regarding a combination of single-seat constituencies and proportional representation in which a candidate can run in both sections, there is a deep-rooted criticism against revival victories in proportional representation segments by candidates who lost their single-seat constituency races. Correcting such a problem is an issue to be considered.

Like the lower house, the upper house continues to be pressured by the judiciary to correct vote-value disparities.

In the discussions on the revision of the electoral system, it is essential to sort out the division of roles between both houses and consider ideal systems for each chamber.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 10, 2024)