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Editorial: LDP's electoral system reform plan for merged constituencies self-serving

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is aiming to enact a controversial bill designed to extend relief to incumbent House of Councillors members who will be unable to run in future elections from their former constituencies due to the merger of those districts despite opposition parties voicing stiff objections to the move.

Under the bill to amend the Public Offices Election Act, the number of seats allocated to the upper house proportional representation system would be increased by four and a "special quota" would be set up, in which voters would be required to select only parties and not individual candidates. Under the current system, voters can choose either individual candidates by name from party rosters or parties themselves in upper house proportional representation elections.

The establishment of a special quota is aimed at helping incumbents get elected after they lose their chance to run in four former constituencies after these districts were merged into two -- one consisting of Tottori and Shimane prefectures and the other comprised of Tokushima and Kochi prefectures.

Since each prefecture has a constituency in the upper house election in principle, it is understandable that critics argue that merging neighboring prefectural constituencies because their populations are small is problematic.

However, the Tottori-Shimane and Tokushima-Kochi constituencies were introduced as an interim measure to rectify vote-value disparities in response to the Supreme Court's demand that equality in voting value be guaranteed in light of the Constitution.

It is extremely unreasonable to create a special quota in the upper house's proportional representation system to help those who lose their chances to run in the merged constituencies get elected. It is similar to backdoor admissions to schools.

If the LDP insists that constituencies comprising multiple prefectures should be eliminated, the party should initiate efforts to fundamentally overhaul the chamber's electoral system to narrow vote-value disparities. It is impermissible for the party to neglect to fundamentally reform the electoral system even though a supplementary provision in the Public Offices Election Act states a conclusion on the issue should be drawn before the 2019 upper house election, and water down the merged constituency system it created.

The LDP played a key role in changing the upper house proportional representation election system to allow voters to either choose candidates by name from party rosters or parties themselves. The move was solely for the LDP's partisan interests. Now, the LDP is trying to partially revive the party-only voting system in the form of a special quota. The LDP's attempt would distort the chamber's electoral system. It is unjustifiable for the ruling bloc to use its overwhelming majority in the legislature to change the electoral system, which is the foundation for democracy, to its own advantage.

The opposition Democratic Party for the People has proposed to increase the number of seats in the Saitama prefectural constituency, where the population per upper house member is the largest, by two while decreasing the number of seats allocated to the proportional representation system by the same number. The party proposed the reform as an interim measure to keep the disparity in the value of one vote in the most sparsely populated constituency to less than three times that in the most densely populated district. The LDP's proposal also calls for an increase in the number of seats in the Saitama electoral district by two. However, the Democratic Party for the People's proposal, which does not include measures to extend relief to incumbents affected by the electoral district mergers, is better than the LDP proposal.

Upper house President Chuichi Date rejected opposition parties' request that he mediate between them and the governing bloc and instead urged the opposition camp to submit a counterproposal to the Diet. Date effectively supported the LDP proposal because it is almost certain that the LDP's bill will be passed into law, raising questions about his wisdom as one of the two heads of the legislative branch.

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