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Japan election ruling ‘ignores’ top court view

Publication Date : 30-11-2013


Thursday’s ruling by the Hiroshima High Court’s Okayama branch that the House of Councillors election in July, in which the maximum disparity between the value of votes was 4.77-to-1, was “unconstitutional” was the first of its kind for an upper house election.

The ruling conveys a distrust of the Diet, which has been slow in rectifying vote-value disparities.

But the ruling did not follow in the steps of the ruling by the Supreme Court’s Grand Bench on November 20, which widely recognised the discretion of the Diet on the issue. According to judges and experts, the branch court ruling went too far.

A judge well-versed in lawsuits on disparities in the value of votes did not hide his surprise.

“(The ruling) completely ignored the Supreme Court’s reasoning,” the judge said.

The electoral systems of the upper house and the House of Representatives are different, but the frameworks for the rulings in a lawsuit on vote-value disparities are the same. It is judged in two steps and ruled unconstitutional if both criteria are met. The first step is to determine whether the disparity results in extreme inequality, and the second step is to decide whether an adequate amount of time to rectify the situation has passed.

The Grand Bench ruling on November 20, which deemed the 2012 lower house election results to be “in a state of unconstitutionality,” took into consideration the discretionary right of the Diet and pointed out that in the second step not only should the length of time be taken into account, but also what rectifications have been made thus far and what further measures are necessary. Though the lower house’s cutting of five seats to rectify the disparities was not considered “a drastic reform,” the ruling cited it as "progress to a certain extent" and acknowledged the chamber’s step-by-step reviews as a realistic option.

But the Okayama branch court ruling placed weight on the fact that it took as long as three years and nine months from the Grand Bench ruling in September 2009, which urged a review of the upper house election system, to the last upper house election. Though the upper house reduced the disparity from 5-to-1 in the 2010 election to 4.77-to-1 in the last election by adding four seats in two densely populated constituencies and cutting four seats from two less populated constituencies, the ruling criticised the reduction, saying it was “not a drastic reform.”

There are also voices questioning the decision in the ruling that the period needed for rectification should have started in 2009.

“The 2009 ruling was ‘constitutional,’ so it would be impossible to make that year the starting point (for rectification),” said lawyer Isao Imai, a former Supreme Court justice. “An appropriate time for the starting point is October last year, when the Grand Bench urged a review of prefecture-based constituencies and ruled (the 2010 upper house election) was ‘in a state of unconstitutionality.’ Nine months passed from that point to the last upper house election, which is too short as a period of time for rectification.”



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