Doubts cannot be dismissed about the proposal for amending the Constitution drafted by the Liberal Democratic Party as a means of altering the election system for the House of Councillors. The election system should be reviewed alongside the powers of both houses of the Diet and the division of roles between them.
The party’s headquarters tasked with promoting constitutional amendment has compiled draft provisions for amendments designed to dissolve merged constituencies for upper house elections.
Under the draft proposal, “wide-area local public entities,” which refers to the Tokyo metropolitan and prefectural governments, would be stipulated in Article 92, while a provision would be added to Article 47 allowing at least one person to be elected from each prefecture-based electoral district in upper house elections held every three years.
The LDP has concluded that these amendments will make it possible to avoid court rulings that deem vote-disparities to be unconstitutional.
In the 2016 upper house elections, the constituencies of Tottori and Shimane were merged into one, as were those of Tokushima and Kochi.
As the concentration of the population in Tokyo advances along with population decreases in regional areas, there are likely to be more prefectures that may be subject to integration as constituencies in the years ahead. The sense of crisis voiced by legislators elected from regional constituencies is understandable, as they say that unless merged constituencies are eliminated, it will become impossible for local voices to reach national politics.
Yet the Constitution considers the members of both houses of the Diet to be representatives of all the people, and gives each house almost equal authority. It is unreasonable not to deal with the power and role of upper house members while having them function as regional representatives.
Don’t exclude increase in seats
The party should tackle the task of rectifying the excessive power held by the upper house by, for instance, easing the requirement for the lower house to pass bills for a second time — if they are rejected by the upper house — to a “majority” of the members, and narrowing the range of personnel affairs that require Diet sanction.
These efforts will also help prevent the recurrence of a situation in which “indecisive politics” prevail because those in the majority of one house are a minority in the other.
The four prefectures whose constituencies were merged are areas where the LDP has a relatively wide electoral base. If the dissolution of merged constituencies is seen as the LDP pursuing its own interests, it will not be able to gain the endorsement of other parties, including Komeito, let alone the people’s support.
The revised Public Offices Election Law, which introduced integrated constituencies, stipulates in its supplementary provision that “conclusions will be made” for systemic reform for the 2019 upper house elections. There is little time left.
As half the seats in the upper house come up for election, at least two people need to be allocated to each constituency. There will be a limit to the correction of vote disparities as long as the total number of seats is kept intact.
It is necessary for each party to accelerate discussion on the electoral system of the upper house, without excluding the option of increasing the total number of seats.
Also incorporated in the LDP’s draft proposal is a provision that says not only the population, but also such factors as administrative districts, will be considered with regard to the zoning for both houses’ elections.
To rectify disparities in the value of votes, a number of municipalities — cities, wards and towns — are divided into more than one electoral district under the single-seat constituencies for lower house elections. This state of affairs, which causes confusion among voters, is undesirable.
It can be understood that there is a need to maintain as much as possible the integrity of the local communities of municipalities.