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Editorial: Make voters fully aware of newly zoned lower house constituencies

  • June 13, 2017
  • , The Japan News , 7:57 p.m.
  • English Press

The latest legislative revision is the result of a serious effort to rectify the disparity in the relative value of a vote, thereby reducing the gap to less than 2-to-1. Thorough preparations should be made to ensure that no confusion arises among voters.


The Diet has passed a bill to revise the Public Offices Election Law with a view to reconsidering the boundaries of a record 97 single-seat constituencies for a House of Representatives election. The main pillar of the legislation is what is called the “zero-increase, six-reduction” scheme, which will reduce the number of single-member constituencies in six prefectures, including Aomori and Kagoshima, by one for each prefecture.


The lower house adopted a supplementary resolution urging the government to make the newly zoned boundaries fully known to the public. “I’ll carefully explain the details of the review,” Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Sanae Takaichi said. After a one-month notification period, the revised law will come into force as early as July 16.


The change in the boundaries of the single-seat constituencies was the third such change since the current electoral system was introduced in 1994. The latest rezoning, which has introduced future population estimates for the first time, involved ingenious efforts to make sure the disparity in the vote value stays at or below the 1.999-to-1 level in 2020.


On the other hand, a record 105 cities, wards and towns will be divided into more than one area belonging to the rezoned constituencies. At present, a considerable number of voters may be unsure about which constituency they belong to. Local governments will also assume a greater administrative workload.


It is important to exercise wisdom in carrying out relevant publicity activities and in reducing election-related administrative work. Each political party should hasten to adjust its list of candidates in line with the change in the boundaries of the constituencies.


The revised legislation was supported by such parties as the ruling parties, the opposition Democratic Party and another opposition party, Nippon Ishin no Kai. It is safe to say that the current electoral system — a scheme under which the use of a third-party panel precludes political intervention and the boundaries of the constituencies are periodically reconsidered in accordance with population changes — has been steadily taking root.


Needless cuts in seats?


After a national census in 2020, the number of lower house seats in each prefecture will be fundamentally reallocated, based on the Adams method of apportionment, which will be newly introduced in that process. It is expected that the boundaries of constituencies in Tokyo will be greatly changed again, given that a large increase in the number of seats there is a foregone conclusion.


The full number of lower house members will be set at 465 due to the zero-growth, six-decrease scheme and a reduction of four in the number of those to be elected under the proportional representation system. This will give the house its smallest roster since the electoral system of male suffrage was introduced in 1925.


There are concerns about an accelerated decrease in the number of lower house members elected from provincial areas as a result of a decrease in the full number of seats in that chamber amid a long-term population decline in such regions. This bears on another problem — that is, the smaller the full number of lower house members is, the more difficult it will be to correct disparities in the relative weight of a vote.


The number of Diet members in Japan is not large by any means, compared to those in other countries.


In January last year, the third-party research commission of experts proposed a reduction by 10 in the number of lower house members in deference to each political party’s pledge to reduce that figure, despite expressing a cautious stance on the matter. “It is difficult to find a positive reason and logical grounds for a reduction in the full number [of lower house seats],” the panel said.


A cut in the number of Diet members will make it difficult for local residents to have their voices heard in national politics.

Insisting on a further reduction in that number seems to be a form of populism aiming at electioneering purposes.


How should discussions in the Diet be made fulfilling while also reinforcing the legislature’s capacity to keep watch on administrative management? These tasks are the very issues each political party must earnestly grapple with.

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