A panel to the speaker of the House of Representatives has drawn up a draft report recommending that the number of seats in the lower chamber be cut by 10 to 465. The recommendation is a realistic option in terms of responding to the urgent task of rectifying the disparities in the value of votes between the most densely populated and the most sparsely populated constituencies while retaining the current electoral system, which combines single-seat constituencies and proportional representation blocks.
While the Diet will have the final say, settlement of the issue should not be prolonged any further. The ruling and opposition parties should get moving to achieve a conclusion.
The draft report recommends adopting the so-called "Adams' method," which can better reflect the population ratio in the distribution of seats than the current system. Applying data from the 2010 Population Census, the number of seats allocated to single-seat constituencies will be raised by three in Tokyo and one each in Saitama, Chiba, Kanagawa and Aichi prefectures, while being slashed by one each in Aomori and 12 other prefectures.
Under this method, the maximum vote-value disparity by prefecture will be 1.621 times (between Ehime and Tottori prefectures), a slight improvement from the current 1.788 times (between Tokyo and Tottori Prefecture). Just last month, the Supreme Court ruled that the vote-value disparity in the single-seat constituencies in the December 2014 lower house election was "in a state of unconstitutionality." The panel's recommendation could provide one solution to this urgent issue, which, under the Constitution, should not be disregarded.
In the meantime, the draft report calls for raising the number of proportional representation seats by one in the Tokyo block while decreasing one each in the Tohoku, Kita-Kanto, Tokai, Kinki and Kyushu blocks. Together with cuts in the number of single-seat constituencies, the total reduction will be 10 seats. This will bring the total number of lower house seats to 465 -- a record low in the post-World War II period.
Japan is not necessarily overladen with Diet members, compared to other advanced countries. There remains controversy over the appropriate number of Diet seats. The idea that simply slashing the number of seats would suffice is short-sighted, however, as it may lead to the argument that the Diet per se is no longer necessary. Within the panel, many questions were raised regarding the proposal to merely cut back on the number of lower house seats.
In the fall of 2012, then Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and Shinzo Abe, president of the then opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), reached an agreement to cut the number of Diet seats in conjunction with the consumption tax hike. They said that the legislature, too, needed to be prepared for self-sacrifice. If that promise ends up empty, public distrust in politics will only grow.
Given the circumstances, it is understandable that the panel advised cutting the number of lower chamber seats by a net 10. There are calls to drastically reform the electoral system, which mixes single-seat constituencies with proportional representation blocks, but such a major turnaround requires time-consuming national debate.
The panel is set to file a formal report in mid-January. But some in the LDP have already voiced opposition to the draft proposal, as the party embraces many lawmakers hailing from prefectures whose constituencies are subject to the proposed seat cuts.
While the LDP's coalition partner Komeito, the main opposition DPJ and the Japan Innovation Party basically view the draft report favorably, the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party have opposed seat reductions. Consultations between the ruling and opposition parties over the issue are certain to run into rough waters, and it appears uncertain whether the proposed reform will be implemented in time for the next lower house election.
However, the parties should keep in mind the fact that the debate was left up to a third-party panel because the ruling and opposition blocs failed to reach consensus through discussion. If they further evade a final decision, they will only end up evoking further mistrust in politics.