(Yomiuri: February 12, 2016 – p. 4)
Former House of Representatives Speaker Bunmei Ibuki shared his thoughts on the electoral system reform, from what prompted the establishment of a research commission on the matter to how he assesses the latest proposal, in his recent interview with the Yomiuri Shimbun. Excerpts are as follows:
Establishment of a research commission on electoral system reform
Ibuki: We should keep in mind what led to the creation of a research commission on the electoral system reform. A reduction in House of Representatives seats became an issue when an integrated reform of social welfare and taxation was passed into law in 2012. In the two general elections held after this, the Liberal Democratic Party pledged to cut the number of Lower House seats. In addition, the Supreme Court has judged that vote weight disparities that exist under the current electoral districts violate Article 14 of the Constitution. The commission’s latest proposal offers solutions to these two problems.
After the LDP returned to power, each political party held in-house discussions on the electoral system reform, but opinion was split within them over whether Lower House seats should be reduced in single-seat or proportional representation constituencies. I was Speaker of the Lower House back then and was asked by the secretaries-general of the parties to deal with this issue at the legislative branch of government. A research commission was set up as an official body of the Lower House. The parties, including the LDP, adopted a resolution to respect a proposal the commission would submit at the Committee on Rules and Administration in the Lower House.
Putting off passing the electoral system reform into law would be a breach of a promise to the public. At the same time, it would degrade the dignity of Lower House Speaker and the Diet. Prime Minister Abe knows about the details that led to the creation of a research commission, and his response that called for respecting the proposal shows his unwavering resolution.
Evaluation of the proposal
Ibuki: The Supreme Court strictly interpreted equality under the law and judged that a vote weight disparity [between the most and least populated constituencies] should be kept below twofold. If the Supreme Court, which has the right to investigate constitutionality, judges Lower House elections are in the state of being unconstitutional, the Diet must follow it. The Diet can discuss when to introduce the Adams method [to allocate seats in proportion to populations] or reduce Lower House seats, but it must clearly state that policy by revising law.
But if electoral districts are reviewed every five year to comply with the equality under the law, a Diet member elected from one district may have to run from an adjacent district in the next election. Voters will not be able to conduct a performance appraisal on a Diet member they elected. The sovereignty of the people, which is stated in the preamble of the Constitution, cannot be guaranteed without this appraisal.
We must come up with a solution that can ensure a stable relationship between votes and those elected and govern a nation while valuing equality under the law.
There are also issues to be addressed, such as a declining numbers of local assembly members and the absence of a constitution court to coordinate opinions between the legislative and judicial branches of government. These should be discussed under the theme of constitutional revision.
Reduction in Lower House seats
Ibuki: The proposal says that international comparisons suggest there are not strong reasons for reducing Lower House seats. But the ruling and opposition parties pledged a reduction in Lower House seats in the general election held in 2014. That is a harmful effect of populism, but once a promise is made, it must be delivered. If public pledges are not fulfilled, people will have nothing to trust when they vote. (Abridged)