The ruling Liberal Democratic Party's proposal for electoral system reform that so brazenly benefits itself is appalling.
At a June 8 meeting of the House of Councillors Reform Council, the LDP's proposal that the number of seats in the upper house be raised by six -- two more in the Saitama constituency and four more in proportional representation -- was met by fierce objections from opposition parties.
The LDP's aim is to rescue incumbent upper house legislators who will be unable to run in the next upper house election from their former constituencies due to the merger of those districts, through a special category in which they would be put on a proportional representation list.
The merging of four constituencies into two went into effect in 2015 as a provisionary measure to reduce the disparity in vote values, but it has had some negative effects, such as low voter turnout. There is a certain logic to setting constituencies, as a general rule, by prefecture.
The Constitution demands equal value in each vote. To resolve the disparity in vote values without the merger of constituencies, either the Constitution must be revised to regard members of the House of Councillors as representatives of Japan's 47 prefectures, or a new framework must be instituted in which prefectural boundaries are eliminated and electoral blocks are formed instead.
In any case, it will require debate addressing the fundamental nature of the House of Councillors, which differs from that of the House of Representatives. The LDP had argued for the resolution of constituency mergers through constitutional amendment, but understanding and appreciation for the LDP's amendment proposal, which does not address the very role of the upper house, has not spread among opposition parties.
In the first place, the proportional representation system with a nationwide constituency and vote-weight disparities among constituencies are not directly related. To make an about-turn and treat merged constituencies as a new norm, and secure an alternative way for candidates from those former constituencies to get elected, just because the prospects of making constitutional amendments to eliminate merged constituencies a reality appear bleak is deeply irrational.
The LDP is trying to justify the proposal for a special category by arguing with brute force that the measure is one that will allow "valuable people in national politics" to win elections. The issue of whether a politician is valuable to national politics and the issue of merged constituencies are completely different things. To rescue incumbent politicians who cannot run for re-election, with no input from voters, based only on the LDP's internal circumstances, is nothing but a "backdoor" election.
What's alarming is that the LDP's junior coalition partner, Komeito, which takes the position of importance on equal value in each vote, has expressed a certain level of understanding toward the LDP's proposal. There's no denying that in the Saitama constituency, where the population per upper house legislator is highest, the LDP proposal of raising the number of House of Councillor members there would help reduce the vote weight disparity. But there also seems to be a political calculation involved, in which incumbents would be more likely to win.
The electoral system, through which citizens select their representatives, are the rules that comprise the bedrock of democracy. It is unacceptable for the ruling parties to use the power of numbers to unilaterally skew those rules.
What part of the LDP proposal constitutes fundamental reform? The supplementary provisions in the Public Offices Election Act, which stipulate that a conclusion must be reached by next summer when the next House of Councillors election will take place, ring hollow.