Government panel recommendations for drastically changing the demarcation of House of Representatives single-seat constituencies, with the aim of rectifying the disparity in the value of one vote between the most and least populated districts, may have come as a surprise to many members of the public.
The Council for Finalizing the Constituencies of the House of Representatives submitted the recommendations to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on April 19. The changes would affect 97 constituencies in 19 prefectures, including six prefectures where the number of lower house seats would be reduced.
Particular attention has been focused on a sharp increase in the number of cities and wards in urban areas including Tokyo that would be split into different electoral districts. Many voters in the affected areas are apparently confused by their municipalities not corresponding with their electoral districts. However, the measure is a must to reduce the vote-value disparity in lower house elections -- which need to reflect public opinion precisely -- to below double. Still, voters have to be informed of the reform.
The Supreme Court ruled that the vote-value disparity in the 2014 lower house election was "in a state of unconstitutionality" -- a situation not immediately deemed unconstitutional but that could be recognized as such unless the disparity is rectified to a rational level within a reasonable timeframe. The move to change the constituency borders follows revisions made to electoral system legislation in 2016 to cut six single-seat districts in response to the top court ruling.
What should be kept in mind is that the ruling bloc has decided to delay the introduction of the Adams Method -- a seat apportionment method believed to have been proposed by the sixth U.S. President John Quincy Adams -- to better reflect the ratio of population during debate on the relevant legislation. The introduction of the method had been proposed by an advisory panel to the lower house speaker.
Based on the Adams Method, the largest opposition Democratic Party (DP) insisted that the number of lower house seats be increased in densely populated regions by seven and decreased in sparsely populated regions by 13. However, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) opposed the DP's idea out of fear that it would impact many of its legislators.
According to sources involved in the demarcation changes, there was no choice but to split many municipalities in Tokyo and other urban areas into different constituencies to avoid increasing the overall number of seats in the lower chamber.
If lower house seats are to be redistributed using the Adams Method, the number of seats in urban areas would increase, possibly eliminating the need to divide up municipalities into different electoral districts. Japan is scheduled to introduce the Adams Method based on the outcome of the 2020 national census. This should not be postponed any further.
The executive branch of the government is aiming to have a bill to change the demarcation of lower house electoral districts enacted during the ongoing Diet session. After the bill becomes law, the government will need to spend about one month thoroughly notifying the public of the changes. Therefore, the new borders are expected to be applicable this summer or later.
Even though the proposed reform would be a far cry from a fundamental rectification of the vote-value disparity, the LDP would be forced to shift a considerable number of candidates to other districts or proportional representations blocs.
Thus, some LDP legislators had expressed hope that the prime minister would dissolve the lower house for a snap general election under the current electoral system, saying, "The demarcation changes would not restrict the prime minister's right to dissolve the chamber."
However, this is no longer acceptable, as a new demarcation plan has already been released. The government should prioritize publicizing the new lower house constituency demarcations.