Election reform bill enacted, but far from resolving voting inequities

June 25, 2013


A bill redrawing single-seat district boundaries in the Lower House to address vote-value disparity has been enacted on a second vote, but the new law already appears inadequate to satisfy a judiciary that has ruled the size of the disparity is in a "state of unconstitutionality" and a Lower House election last December as "invalid."

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hailed the passage of the law in the Lower House on June 24.

“The situation that has been regarded as unconstitutional will be resolved,” he said.

However, the new law appears insufficient to settle the disparity in the value of a vote, with many districts already on the verge of exceeding the 2 times threshold between one cast in the least and most populated voting populace.

The bill was written into law at a Lower House plenary session after a two-thirds majority approved it a second time after the Upper House sat on the bill for more than 60 days. Ninety-one legislators opposed the bill, including members of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan and Your Party, in the 480-member chamber.

Under a constitutional measure, the more powerful Lower House can override the Upper House if it does not put a bill it sends to the chamber to a vote within 60 days. This is the first bill written into law in four years on a second vote at the Lower House.

The new legislation cuts the number of single-seat districts in the Lower House from 300 to 295 by reducing one such constituency each in Fukui, Yamanashi, Tokushima, Kochi and Saga prefectures, from three to two seats.

Redrawing of the boundaries of single-seat districts will be conducted in 42 districts in Tokyo and 16 prefectures, including the five prefectures.

The law will take effect on June 28, and the next Lower House election will be conducted under this setup.

The legislation came after two high court rulings said earlier this year that the result of the Lower House election on Dec. 16 was “invalid” due to the disparity in the value of a vote between the district with the lowest and highest voting populace.

The disparity was at 2.43 times in the election, meaning that one vote in Japan's least populated constituency was worth 2.43 votes in the most heavily populated constituency, wider than the 2.30 margin in the previous Lower House election in August 2009.

Under the rezoning mandated under the new law, the disparity between the Tottori No. 2 district, which has the nation’s least number of eligible voters with 291,103, and the No. 16 district in Tokyo, which has the nation’s most with 581,677 eligible voters, will be 1.998 times. Those figures are based on the 2010 census.

The new law was aimed at bringing the disparity in all of the nation’s constituencies to no more than 2 times, a threshold that is likely to be judged unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Currently, there are 97 such districts.

But it is highly likely that some constituencies will post a disparity of more than 2 times in the near future with population changes. According to government statistics, there will be 23 districts with a disparity of more than 1.9 times even after the voting boundaries are redrawn.

Calculations based on a population projection in March by the internal affairs ministry showed that voting inequalities exceeded 2 times in six districts.

Of these, the disparity between the Tokyo No. 1 district and the Fukushima No. 4 district, which had the smallest number of eligible voters, was already 2.065 times.

The new legislation was drawn up after the Supreme Court ruled in March 2011 that the Lower House election held in 2009 was in a “state of unconstitutionality” due to an inequality disparity of up to 2.3 times.

Some court rulings this year weighing the validity of last year’s Lower House election stated that the legislation to cut five districts will be insufficient to address the voting inequalities. The Supreme Court is expected to rule in the autumn on the cases.

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, applauds after the election reform bill is approved at the plenary session of the Lower House on June 24. (Teruo Kashiyama)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, applauds after the election reform bill is approved at the plenary session of the Lower House on June 24. (Teruo Kashiyama)

  • Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, second from left, applauds after the election reform bill is approved at the plenary session of the Lower House on June 24. (Teruo Kashiyama)

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