Smoothly implement electoral rezoning to narrow vote-value gap

The Yomiuri ShimbunPeriodically rectifying vote-value disparities according to demographic changes must take root as smoothly as possible to minimize confusion. The rezoning of electoral districts is indispensable to the single-seat constituency system.

The Council on the House of Representatives Electoral Districts has recommended a plan to rezone single-seat constituencies to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The plan calls for rezoning 97 electoral districts of 19 prefectures — the largest reform of its kind — including eliminating one seat each in Aomori and five other prefectures.

Abe said the government “will swiftly take legislative steps.” The government and ruling parties plan to enact a bill to revise the Public Offices Election Law in the current session of the Diet, so the revised zoning system is likely to apply to lower house elections that could be held this summer or later.

Vote-value disparities in lower house elections were judged by the Supreme Court to be “in a state of unconstitutionality” for three consecutive elections up to the one held in 2014 that recorded a maximum vote-value gap of 2.13 to 1.

The envisaged revision would reduce the maximum vote-value disparity to 1.999 to 1, even if figures are based on population projections for 2020. Thus, it will be possible to realize the disparity of “within 2 to 1” as set by the Law for Establishment of the Council on the House of Representatives Electoral Districts.

This is the first time that population estimates on top of national census results have been used to compute vote-value disparities based on populations, excluding non-Japanese. The planned revision reflects a constructive attitude toward avoiding a ruling that judges a lower house election to be unconstitutional as it incorporates demographic changes from the time of electoral district rezoning to the next lower house election.

The revision would increase the number of cases in which municipalities do not fall within a single constituency, with such divided municipalities nationwide soaring to a record 105 cities, wards and towns. In particular, in Tokyo, such municipalities would increase from the current five wards to 17 cities and wards.

Get voters’ understanding

It is desirable to avoid the splitting of municipalities across electoral districts as much as possible. It is also intended to prevent the arbitrary demarcation of constituencies in addition to facilitating the understanding of voters and reducing the administrative workload of municipalities.

The new demarcation scheme will surely confuse more than a few voters. The government and municipalities that will be affected by the scheme must make the utmost efforts to make voters fully understand the new zoning system.

In the six prefectures where the number of seats would be reduced and in other constituencies, each political party would be forced to coordinate the selection of candidates. The revision would have a huge effect on candidates’ supporters and relevant organizations. The Liberal Democratic Party, which has many incumbent lawmakers, would face a difficult task but must overcome the challenge by accepting it as a sacrifice for democracy.

After the 2020 census, a drastic redistribution of seats will be carried out based on the newly introduced Adams’ method of apportionment. A further change in demarcation will be inevitable again for Tokyo where four seats would be added based on the population estimates for that year.

There have also been calls for reducing the disparity further than less than 2 to 1. To realize this, a further splitting of constituencies within a municipality will be unavoidable.

Under the current system, even if candidates lose in single-seat elections, they have chances to be elected in the proportional representation segment. There has even been a case of three candidates being elected under the system from one single-seat constituency. There would be little significance in pursuing a stricter correction of disparities while turning a blind eye to this imbalance.

In the prefectures where population decline has continued, there is a strong dissatisfaction with the possibility of the number of lawmakers representing them being dropped. How to reflect regional voices in national politics must not be forgotten, either.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun,

April 21, 2017)Speech


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