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Editorial: Debate needed on revising constituencies comprising multiple prefectures

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is considering a plan to revise the Constitution to eliminate House of Councillors constituencies comprising multiple prefectures.

The party's Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision to the Constitution has approved an outline of a basic plan to amend the supreme law. Larger progress has been made on intraparty debate on the elimination of upper house constituencies comprising multiple prefectures than three other items that the LDP prioritizes -- stipulation of the existence of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF), responses to emergency situations including serious natural disasters and making education free.

Each prefecture previously had its own constituency in the upper house. However, the Tottori and Shimane constituencies and Tokushima and Kochi electoral districts were merged respectively for the first time in the upper house election of summer 2016 as part of efforts to reduce the widening disparity in the value of one vote between the most densely populated constituencies and the most sparsely populated electoral districts. In the Tottori-Shimane and the Tokushima-Kochi districts, one seat for each is up for grabs in an upper house election, which is held every three years and in which half of its members are at stake.

Under the plan approved by the LDP, at least one legislator must be elected to the upper house from each "broad administrative district," or prefecture, in every election regardless of vote value disparity. Specifically, Article 47 of the Constitution, which stipulates that "matters pertaining to the method of election of members of both Houses shall be fixed by law," would be amended to eliminate constituencies consisting of multiple prefectures. Since the Constitution has no clause defining "broad administrative districts" as prefectures, Article 92 on local public entities would be revised to clearly make such a definition.

The Japanese population is becoming increasingly concentrated in urban areas, and at this rate, the Diet could be forced to merge even more depopulated prefectural constituencies. Therefore, it would be difficult to keep the vote value disparity in the chamber at the legally permissible level while maintaining the prefectural constituency system.

The LDP likely proposed the reform plan while keeping these circumstances in mind. Yet how the party views the problem is too simplistic.

Under the Constitution, the House of Representatives has supremacy over the upper chamber only in electing the prime minister, voting on the state budget and ratifying treaties. Otherwise, the lower and upper chambers have almost equal voting rights.

It would be unreasonable to strictly apply rules on equality in the value of voting rights, which is based on Article 14 of the Constitution providing for equality under law, to the lower house, while relaxing the application of the regulations to the upper house. If the prefectural constituency system in the upper chamber were to be prioritized at the expense of vote value equality, then a review of the upper house mandate should be unavoidable.

Specifically speaking, the scope of matters in which the lower house has supremacy over the upper house could be broadened, and the upper house could be transformed into a chamber to supervise the executive branch. At the same time, it would be necessary to maintain consistency with Article 43 of the Constitution stipulating that both chambers "shall consist of elected members, representatives of all the people."

Discussions on the elimination of upper house constituencies comprising multiple prefectures should be held along with a review of the country's governing structure. The LDP could only be called opportunistic if it is merely trying to retain single-seat constituencies that are the LDP's strongholds without any intention of rethinking the nation's entire governing system.

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