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Are Japan's Upcoming Elections Unconstitutional?

A group of lawyers appealed to the Tokyo District Court that Japan's upcoming lower house general election will be unconstitutional. However, their case was rejected by the courts on November 21, 2012.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda dissolved the lower house of the Japanese parliament on November 16, and set general elections for December 16. According to a group of lawyers, the value of one vote varies in constituencies and because of this vote value disparity, these planned elections are actually unconstitutional.

Japan's Vote Disparity Heatmap

The map from bengo4.com showing different values of vote. Image distributed freely with second use permission

The map [ja] explains the values per vote in different areas for the lower house under the single-seat constituency electoral system. Areas colored in red have less than half the value of one vote. This was calculated based on the number of voters for each constituency, showing the disparity of one vote between less populated areas and more populated areas. According to the website of ippyo.org, a coalition formed to tackle this issue, the value per vote in Osaka district 1 is counted as 0.57 vote for the lower house election and 0.21 for the upper house election.

Last month, on October 17, the Supreme Court ruled that the election of the upper house in 2010 which had a maximum disparity of 5 to 1 was unconstitutional. Also earlier in March 2011, the Supreme Court decided that the unequal representation of electoral districts in the 2009 election had been unconstitutional.

On November 15, electoral reform bills were passed [ja] and a new revision was introduced to reduce the disparity of vote value in the upper house constituency. However, it is not clear how these reforms apply to the lower house elections.

Electoral Reform Bills Passed in Lower House

Electoral reform bills passed in lower house. Image captured from video on www.shugiintv.go.jp

The hashtag #ippyo was used on Twitter to discuss the issues around the gap in the value of vote.

@kijyoker:

今回野田総理は違憲状態のまま衆議院を解散して総選挙する。つまり今度の選挙も国民の意思が反映されない状況下で選挙することになる。当初はメディアも取り上げていたが、今は選挙報道中心でそのことにはあまり触れてはいない。こんな状況がいつまで続くのか。 #ippyo

This time, Prime Minister Noda dissolved the parliament and set elections with constituencies being in an unconstitutional state. It is unlikely that this election will reflect the opinion of citizens. At first, we saw media coverage on this issue, but now they cover more on the election itself and hardly about the issue of this unconstitutional situation. I wonder how long this situation will continue. #ippyo

Twitter user watakenn3 comments that this problem is not new and has been around for a while:

@watakenn3:

学校で習う選挙制度とか単なるテスト対策用語として扱いで、問題として認識されて無いからなぁ。例えば「一票の格差」とか数十年前の教科書にも乗ってるし、きちんと教えられてるんだから国民の60%ぐらいは認知してる筈なんだけどね。そんなに進展ない状況のまま今日まで来たわけで

In school, people learn about the electoral system just at face value to prepare for their exams. It is not recognized as a problem. The term “disparity between values of votes in different constituencies” has been in textbooks for more than 10 years and so I say roughly 60% of the population should be aware of it. But not much progress has been made.

Another user yusaku79 also wants Japan's generation gap to be addressed in the electoral system:

@yusaku79

せめて世代別の人口格差が埋まるように選挙における一票を重み付けして欲しい

I want a new system to be implemented that addresses the gap of population by generation per vote.

「一票の格差」で二分の一票になっちゃうんだから、二票入れたい。

If one vote's value is half of one vote, why can't I just cast 2 votes.

The general election poll date is expected to be December 16.

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