People cast a ballot to elect parliamentary members. A vote should be of equal value disregarding electoral districts to rightly show a will of the voters. However, in the last Upper House election held July 2013 ended in a fact that a candidate in Tottori Prefecture, a sparsely populated region, had won a seat with 160 thousand votes, while one in Tokyo had lost with 550 thousand votes. To rectify the inequality in vote values is an urgent task.
BOTH DIET HOUSES ARE IN STATE OF UNCONSTITUTIONALITY
Democracy relies on a prerequisite that the minority’s opinion should be respected, appreciating the majority’s will. Therefore an electoral system must precisely reflect will of people. This principle is stipulated in the Preamble of Constitution: ‘We, Japanese people, acting through our duly elected representatives in the National Diet’ and ‘Government is a sacred trust of the people’.
A Judge Clearly States as Invalid
The ruling given by the Supreme Court says that the existing system to elect members of the Upper House distorts and neglects this principle.
On November 26, just a few days before the general election campaigns began following the abrupt announcement by Premier Abe Shinzo to dissolve the Diet, the Supreme Court issued judgment of ‘a state of unconstitutionality’ on the 2013 July House of Councilors election on the ground that the constitution specifies equality under the law. In that election differences in vote values were 4.77 to 1 between districts of Tottori and Tokyo in the maximum. The top court’s Grand Bench ruled on a total of 16 cases which two groups of lawyers had filed across the country to demand nullification of the election results. The ruling was handed down in the appeals from the lower courts.
This is the third of rulings that the Supreme Court judges as unconstitutional on disparity of one vote in the Upper House elections; the decisions had been made for the 1992 election (6.59:1 in disparity) and the 2010 election (5.00:1). The court ordered a swift review of the election system.
The recent ruling was supported by the majority of 11 judges out of 15 judges in the grand bench. It says: ‘due to the 2012 revision of the law the number of single-seat districts in four prefectures changed. But this step was insufficient to dissolve the unequal situation. Inequality had remained so outrageous that the situation led to an unconstitutional extent up to the 2013 election’. But it rejected the demands for invalidating the results, saying that ‘reasonable time is not out to correct disparity and the fact cannot be defined as unconstitutional’.
Four judges told ‘unconstitutional’ and the three of them insisted that ‘the election was not invalid’. A judge Yamamoto Tsuneyuki, former Director General of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau told: ‘as the ruling of unconstitutionality was given, the election should be invalid’ and added that ‘in some constituencies the election results were invalid’. This is for the first time that a judge in the Supreme Court raised an opinion of invalidity. No judge was in favor of constitutionality.
Small Constituency ? One More Unconstitutional Case
The House of Representatives is in the same state. With disparity of 2:1 the ongoing general elections were held. There are 14 constituencies where weight of votes exceeds twice, which is a threshold of constitutionality. The Supreme Court has judged as unconstitutional the 2009 general election when the disparity rate was 2.30 in the maximum and the 2012 elections when it was 2.43.
The plaintiff groups of lawyers are planned to file a suit, too, that the 2014 general election was invalid.
The small constituency in combination with the proportional representation scheme is the worst electoral system in reflecting a will of people. It is urgent to rectify inequality in the existing electoral system, but without overhauling the system itself that threatens the very basis of democracy, a will of people cannot be reflected correctly.
December 16, 2014