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Japan Government - Diet Apportionment

Cities have existed ever since the dawn of authentic history, and they have held at times absolute sway over the rest of humanity. At the dawn of this era, wherever there was any sort of representative government, the rural communities controlled it, for the towns were small and not influential. As they grew in population and wealth, they naturally demanded a larger share in national affairs and more local autonomy.

Several centuries elapsed since the distribution of representatives among the towns was fixed. Many places, formerly populous, and entitled to be represented, came to contain not more than two or three houses, and yet retained their original privilege. These are called rotten boroughs. In England, the landed gentry and the “rotten boroughs" fought off all serious inroads into their power until the Reform Acts of 1832—5 were passed.

In the United States, only a few instances need be cited. In Connecticut, the State has been so gerrymandcred that seven per cent of the population—rural districts—elect a majority to the House of Representatives. The 11 large manufacturing towns, containing one half of the population of the State, have 22 votes as compared with 233 votes held by the other half, the rural half of the State. In Rhode Island it was the same, and it is suggestive to note that these two commonwealths, among the oldest and most Puritanical of the original thirteen, were the most corrupt, depraved and debauched in political matters.

The initial apportionment in Japan was based on the 1946 census. It was just after the second World War and most of the people who left the cities during the wartime for the sake of safety and food stayed in the rural areas. As in the United States, there was subsequent growth of population in the cities. The failure of the Diet to reapportion was not surprising since the ruling conservative Liberal Democratic Party benefited from this very inequality and over-representation in rural districts. There was hence no actual prospect of reapportionment by the legislature itself. When one lower court held in 1973 that a maximum population variance of 1-to-5 was far beyond a permissibly reasonable level,the Supreme Court affirmed its earlier position and denied judicial intervention. The Supreme Court finally changed its position in 1976.

A new electoral system was introduced in the House of Representative, but the procedure of reapportionment and redistricting followed the principles of the former system. Under non-transferable single voting system, this problem transforms the apportionment into a districting issue. Due to some unsatisfactory legislative procedures, equality of the franchise was not realized. By contrast with this, the redistricting procedure renewed after apportionment revolution in 1964 in United states of America. Now that the equal-population principle has become established constitutional doctrine for state legislative representation and congressional districting, the relationship of representative government was examined anew.

The Japanese courts, furnished with a power of judicial review similar to what is exercised by the American courts and confronted with the same problem, decided to follow this American track. Nevertheless, the Japanese courts have reached a conclusion quite different from the one the American counterparts reached.

The disparity in the weight of votes between depopulated rural areas and populated urban areas expanded from 2.304 times in the August 2009 Lower House election to 2.425 times in the December 2012 Lower House election. The number of constituencies where the disparity is 2.0 times or more increased from 45 to 72. In March 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that the August 2009 Lower House election was “in a state of unconstitutionality” because the maximum 2.304-to-1 vote-value disparity between rural areas and urban areas was too large. No rectification was made before the December 2012 Lower House election.

As of 2011, the number of members of the House of Representatives was 480. Of these, 300 were chosen according to the single-seat constituency system, by which just one person is elected from each district. The other 180 were chosen as per a proportional representation system whereby seats are distributed to preferred party members according to the proportion of the vote received by the party. One must be at least 25 years old to be eligible for election to the House of Representatives.

On 18 June 2012, the DPJ submitted legislation to partially amend the Public Offices Election Law and the Act for Establishment of the Council on the House of Representatives Electoral District. The legislation proposed to correct the disparity in the value of one vote, and to reduce the number of Diet members. In regards to the fundamental reform of the electoral system of the House of Representatives, the DPJ aimed to eliminate 80 seats out of a total of 480 seats in the Lower House with consideration to the situation of the electoral system reform of the Upper House. This would entail eliminating 40 of the proportional representation seats and 5 of the single-seat constituency seats on the basis of the “0 more, 5 less” plan, switching from the current bloc-based proportional representation system (11 electoral districts) to a nationally unified system, and implementing a procedure such as mixed-member proportional representation (105 out of 140 members will be elected with the “d’Hondt formula” and 35 members will be decided by a procedure such as mixed-member proportional representation.)

An electoral reform panel proposed 15 January 2016 that 10 seats be cut in the chamber and also that a new method be adopted for the allocation of seats to each prefecture in order to address vote weight disparities among single-seat electoral districts. Based on the 2010 census figures, the proposal would reduce the number of lower house members elected from single-seat districts to 289 from 295 now, and the number elected from 11 regional blocks under proportional representation to 176 from 180.

The proposed reform was expected to keep such disparities between the most and least populated single-seat constituencies below two-fold. Under the current system, one seat is allocated to each of the 47 prefectures and the remaining 248 seats are distributed depending on population. The method tends to create vote disparities, giving greater weight to rural areas.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe indicated 19 February 2016 that he was ready to move forward a plan to reduce the number of Diet seats. He proposed implementing the plan quicker than his ruling Liberal Democratic Party had previously suggested. Abe made the remarks during a Lower House committee session in response to criticism from Yoshihiko Noda of the main opposition Democratic Party.

Noda is a former Prime Minister. Noda said Abe failed to realize a promise he made to the then Prime Minister Noda 4 years ago to reduce the number of seats in the Diet. Noda pointed out he dissolved the Lower House in exchange for Abe's pledge to realize reform of the electoral system, including a decrease in Diet seats.

In response, Abe expressed readiness to move forward the plan to cut the number of Diet seats by 10 in the Lower House based on the results of a compact census held last year. The Liberal Democratic Party's original proposal was to decrease the Diet seats based on the results of the large-scale 2020 census.

Japan's Supreme Court ruled 27 September 2017 that disparity in the values of votes cast in last year's Upper House election does not violate the country's Constitution. Two groups of lawyers had filed lawsuits across Japan claiming that the vote disparity in July 2016 violates the Constitution's guarantee of vote equality.

The gap in values of votes between the most and least populated constituencies was up to 3.08 times. The plaintiffs demanded that the election be annulled.

Grand Bench presiding justice Itsuro Terada on said rezoning of some constituencies lowered decades-long disparity of around 5 times. He said the government has shown determination to fix the problem. The justice ruled that the disparity in last year's election was not significant enough to violate the Constitution.

The top court had ruled that elections in 2010 and 2013 were held in a state of unconstitutionality, and sought revision of the electoral system.




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Page last modified: 19-10-2017 15:20:46 ZULU