The Yomiuri Shimbun
Top court urges the Diet to reform lower house electoral system further
衆院選違憲状態 国会に制度改革促した最高裁

While respecting the discretionary power of the legislature, the latest ruling can be seen as the judiciary making as much of a request as it can.

The Grand Bench of the Supreme Court handed down a ruling Wednesday that the House of Representatives election in December last year, which had a maximum vote-value disparity of 2.13-to-1 in single-seat constituencies, was in a state of unconstitutionality.

On the grounds that the current state of vote-value disparity runs counter to the vote-value equality called for by the Constitution, the top court told the Diet, “There is a need [for the Diet] to steadily continue improving the electoral system.”

It also acknowledged that a reasonable amount of time to correct the situation has not yet elapsed. The Diet has to make continued efforts to rectify the vote-value disparity.

The law concerning the establishment of the council on rezoning the electoral districts of the lower house stipulates the basic principle that the maximum vote-value disparity should not exceed 2-to-1.

Prior to last year’s poll, the Diet cut the number of lower house seats by five in single-seat constituencies to reduce the disparity to less than 2-to-1. When the election was held, however, the disparity exceeded 2-to-1 in some constituencies, due to demographic change.

Yet the top court acknowledged the Diet’s effort, calling it “a certain amount of progress toward realizing the correction.” It is a realistic view that takes into consideration the fact that it requires time to rectify the disparity.

Imprudent court decisions have become conspicuous in recent years, with some high courts ruling, for instance, that the 2012 lower house election was “unconstitutional” and the results of the election were “invalid.”

Self-restraint shown

The top court reiterated its view that “even if the court judges that there is a problem under the Constitution, it cannot establish any specific systems on its own.” This is a reasonable judgment showing the top court has restrained itself in its consideration of the role of the judicature.

The Supreme Court has been saying the vote-value disparity primarily stems from the current seat-distribution system, which allots one seat to each prefecture and then decides, in proportion to the population, how many additional seats each prefecture should be allocated in the single-seat section of the election.

In response, the Diet has already revised a related law to abolish the provision concerning the seat-distribution system.

The top court again said in its latest ruling that the vote-value disparity exceeds 2-to-1 due to the fact that the allotment of seats based on the seat-distribution system was kept in place in single-seat constituencies in Tokyo and other prefectures, which were not included in the prefectures where a combined total of five seats were reduced.

A research panel of experts tasked with reform of the lower house electoral system is studying the possibility of adopting, in place of the current system, the so-called Adams’ method, which would better reflect the population ratio than the current one. With this method, the vote-value disparity is expected to be held to less than 2-to-1, at least for the time being.

The discussion concerning the reduction of the overall number of lower house seats is worrying. Takeshi Sasaki, chairman of the research panel, has said that in light of the fact that political parties are calling for reducing lower house seats in their public pledges and otherwise, we “cannot ignore political promises.”

Should the overall number of lower house seats be reduced, however, it would become more difficult for diverse public opinions to be reflected in the election.

It may also scale down the Diet’s primary functions of making laws and overseeing the administration through the deliberation of bills.

When looking at the number of seats compared to the population, the number of Diet members is not as large as in European countries.

The research panel may also need to seriously consider the negative aspects of reducing the number of seats.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 26, 2015)