The Liberal Democratic Party’s abuse of its massive majority in the Diet reached a new low with its move to ram questionable Upper House electoral reform through the chamber.

An Upper House committee and the chamber’s plenary session on July 11 passed the LDP-sponsored bill to revise the Public Offices Election Law to increase the number of its seats by six.

The bill was passed in the face of opposition from all the opposition parties.

Although the bill will be sent to the Lower House, it is firmly on track to become law.

An electoral system affects the foundation of democracy. The ruling party has unilaterally and forcibly changed the way the Upper House is elected through just six hours of debate at a committee.

This is a legislative outrage, pure and simple, and an act of making a mockery of the democratic process.

To make the LDP’s move even more maddening, the bill is totally aimed at serving the party’s political interests.

In addition to increasing the number of Upper House members to be elected from Saitama Prefecture by two, the bill is also designed to introduce a “special category” into each party’s list of candidates for the chamber’s proportional representation seats. Each party will be allowed to list candidates on whom it puts a high priority as “special category” candidates, while its other proportional representation candidates are elected in order of the number of votes they have garnered, under the current system. The total number of proportional representation seats will be increased by four.

This change is clearly intended as a means to save the jobs of LDP Upper House members who will be unable to run from a prefectural constituency because of the integration of two pairs of prefectural districts--the Shimane and Tottori districts and the Tokushima and Kochi districts--into one each. This integration has cut the number of candidates to be elected from these four prefectures in a specific Upper House poll from four to two--one from the new Shimane-Tottori district and one from the Tokushima-Kochi district.

Previously, each party determined who on its list of candidates for the proportional representation seats had been elected according to the number of seats it had been allocated according to the total number of votes it had won.

But in 2000, the LDP forcibly changed this system to one under which the proportional representation candidates are elected in order of the number of “candidate name votes” they had won.

The latest reform will change the system partially back to the old approach. This is political opportunism at its worst.

The bill doesn’t specify the number of candidates that can be listed for the special high priority category. It only says a party can designate “a part” of its proportional representation candidates for this class, which means parties can list as many candidates for this category as they like as long as they don’t include “all” their candidates for the proportional representation segment.

This new quota element will make the voting system for the Upper House’s proportional representation component, which already requires voters to decide whether to write the name of a candidate or that of a party, even more complicated.

At the time of the previous revision to the Upper House electoral system in 2015, which integrated the two pairs of prefectural constituencies, the parties agreed on an additional clause calling for a “fundamental review” of the overall system by the 2019 Upper House poll, saying a decision based on the review has to be made without fail.

This raised expectations of a major reform of the system to elect the Upper House, which not only redresses the serious disparity of vote values, but also reflects new definitions of the different roles of the Upper and Lower houses.

But the LDP’s bill will not make any change to the basic framework of the current dual system of prefectural constituencies and proportional representation. The only improvement will be a reduction in the vote-value disparity slightly below 3-to-1 due to the increase of the number of seats elected from Saitama Prefecture from six to eight.

During the party head debate in June, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe admitted that the revision is a “stopgap measure.”

There is absolutely no element that qualifies as a major reform.

Such contempt for the law should never be tolerated.

The only past increase in the number of the Upper House seats occurred when it was raised by two after Okinawa was returned to Japan in 1972, creating a new prefectural constituency.

The LDP has failed to make any compelling case for the latest increase, only the second in history.

During the debate on the Upper House electoral system, some parties made proposals for a radical overhaul. Komeito, the LDP’s junior coalition partner, and Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) proposed to replace the current system with one based on 11 regional constituencies.

The Democratic Party for the People and the coalition of the Constitutional Democratic Party and the Party of Hope have also submitted their own proposals.

But the LDP gave the cold shoulder to all these proposals and Komeito eventually played ball with the ruling party.

The LDP’s outrageous act has strongly underscored the crisis of democracy in this nation.

--The Asahi Shimbun, July 12