Japan adds to parliament seats in controversial electoral reform

20-Jul-2018 Intellasia | Mainichi | 6:32 AM Print This Post

Japan’s Diet passed on Wednesday a bill, sponsored by prime minister Shinzo Abe’s party, to increase the number of parliament seats by tweaking the already complex electoral system.

The bill is seen by many as the ruling party doing what they can to help the re-election of certain incumbents.

The approval of the bill by the ruling coalition-controlled lower house by a majority vote to add six seats to the House of Councillors, or upper house, came despite ongoing debates over downsizing parliament in a country with a shrinking population.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party says the bill will ensure upper house elections are fairer because it is part of efforts to narrow what is known as the vote-value disparitythe difference in the weight of a single vote between urban and rural constituencies.

Wataru Takeshita, who chairs the LDP general Council, said he is aware of criticism regarding the six additional seats, but the addition was necessary to make sure each prefecture gets at least one upper house member, which is “the most important thing.”

Opposition parties have criticised the LDP for prioritising its “partisan interests” above rectifying the vote-value disparity.

Kiyomi Tsujimoto, Diet affairs chief of the leading opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, lashed out at the ruling party for pushing through the scheme that benefits itself and said it was the “climax” of the LDP’s high-handed politics.

Despite strong objections from opposition lawmakers and calls from the public to trim the number of parliamentarians to save taxpayers’ money, the bill cleared the House of Councillors last week and a lower house panel on Tuesday.

The increase, the opposition lawmakers have claimed, is intended to “bail out” incumbent LDP lawmakers who cannot run from their rural constituencies in the next upper house election to be held in the summer of next year.

The passage of the bill by the more powerful House of Representatives will raise the number of seats in the upper house by six from the current 242. Specifically, the populous Saitama prefectural constituency, which now has six seats, will have two more, and four slots will be added to the proportional representation system.

Upper house seats have been increased for the first time since 1970, when it was decided to set up the two-seat Okinawa prefectural constituency two years ahead of the reversion of the islands to Japan from US control.

The disparity in vote value is a problem in Japan as it has distorted the representation of the will of the people in parliament, while the population particularly outside major cities is constantly on the decline.

Citizen groups repeatedly filed lawsuits following each national election claiming that the gap violates the Constitution’s guarantee of equality.

The Supreme Court ruled that the 2010 and 2013 upper house electionsin which the weight gap reached up to 5.00 times and 4.77 times, respectivelywere held “in a state of unconstitutionality” and ordered parliament to address the sharp vote-value imbalance.

The election law was revised in 2015 to unite two pairs of western Japan prefectures with the country’s smallest populationsTottori and neighbouring Shimane as well as Tokushima and adjoining Kochiinto two constituencies with one seat each.

It means that two of the four incumbent LDP members elected in 2013 from the four prefectures, before the 2015 change, will lose their chance to run in the integrated constituencies next year.

In an apparent attempt to help them, the reform would increase the number of seats allocated to the proportional representation system by four and introduce a “special quota” under which candidates are elected according to their place on a list submitted by each party.

The Saitama district, next to Tokyo, has the highest number of voters per lawmaker in Japan and the reform is aimed at narrowing the disparity rate between the most and least populous constituencies to less than three.

The top court ruled last year that the 2016 upper house election, which was held with a disparity rate of up to 3.08 times, was “constitutional.”



Category: Japan

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