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2015年3月30日 (月)

(社説)不平等な一票 正統性が問われている

--The Asahi Shimbun, March 28
(社説)不平等な一票 正統性が問われている
EDITORIAL: Diet's failure to fix vote-value disparity shows contempt for democracy

The Diet’s legitimacy to change Japan’s postwar pacifist principles or to initiate debate on constitutional amendments has been called into question by its failure to solve the serious problem of vote-value disparity.

Although it is considering a new measure to improve the situation, the Diet has been far too slow to take steps to rectify the gross political inequality.

It is hard not to doubt even the Diet’s will to respect the fundamental principle of equality under the law.

High courts across the nation have handed down rulings on the constitutionality of the Lower House election last December, which was held with significant inequity in the value of a single vote.

Rulings have been delivered on 14 of the 17 lawsuits filed by lawyers’ groups in various high courts demanding that the election results be nullified.
One of the courts ruled that the election was “unconstitutional,” and nine ruled that it was held in a “state of unconstitutionality,” one step short of an outright violation of the Constitution. Four courts said the election was constitutional.

In ruling that the election was held in a state of unconstitutionality, one of the high courts effectively set a deadline of December 2016 for redressing the situation in line with the Diet’s time frame for reforming the electoral system. The ruling sounded like ultimatum that unless the system is reformed, the next election could be declared unconstitutional and invalid.

In the December Lower House election, one vote in the nation’s least populated constituency was worth 2.13 votes in the most heavily populated district. In other words, the weight of one person’s vote in a certain district was less than half of the weight of another person’s vote in a different district.

Why do voters have to put up with such outrageous inequality? The Diet’s negligence in failing to fix the problem is nothing but contempt for democracy.

Before the Lower House election, the Diet tweaked the electoral system by reducing the number of single-seat constituencies by one each in five prefectures. But the Diet has kept intact the method of first distributing one seat to each of the 47 prefectures before allocating the remaining seats in the single-seat constituency part of the system in proportion to population.

Four years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that this approach was the main cause of the vote-value disparity and called for its abolition.

However, no radical reform of the system to bring the disparity closer to zero has been carried out. What the Diet is currently considering is a proposal to reduce the numbers of seats allocated to nine prefectures by one each, while increasing the numbers of seats in six prefectures by one to three. But this is just another adjustment to make the figures look better.

By making such a lukewarm response, the Diet cannot escape being criticized for lowering its own representation and legitimacy.

We don’t need to wait for a Supreme Court ruling to say that the Diet has no choice but to start making serious efforts to overhaul the electoral systems for both houses.

Some lawmakers feel that it is not imperative to reform the system because four high courts have ruled the election was constitutional.

But they are wrong.

These rulings were based on the assumption that the Diet will make progress in improving the system. These legislators should understand that the courts simply showed respect for the legislature’s power to make policy decisions on the issue.

The current situation makes us freshly aware of the misguided leniency the Supreme Court showed in ruling in 2013 on the constitutionality of the 2012 Lower House election.

The top court showed a certain degree of understanding of the Diet’s plan to improve the system without abandoning the method of allocating a seat to each prefecture first. This ruling may have led some high courts to show similar leniency by declaring the election constitutional.

What must not be forgotten is the heavy responsibility of the judiciary concerning the problem of inequality in the value of a single vote.

It is not surprising that legislators secretly wish to maintain the system under which they were elected. They are not qualified to represent the interests of voters who are demanding equality in the weight of their votes.

This is a value that will continue to be ignored unless the judiciary makes clear its importance.

More high court rulings on the issue are expected to come next month. The courts should make well-reasoned decisions from the viewpoint of the people’s interests.


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