Photo/Illutration The Diet building in Tokyo (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The term “gerrymander” derives from the lampooning of Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry for approving a redrawn electoral district in 1812 with an unnaturally contorted boundary that resembled a mythical salamander, a dragon-like creature with huge wings, a rippling neck and sharp claws.

Gerry (1744-1814) was one of the esteemed Founding Fathers of the United States. But the redrawn electoral map ruined his reputation, consigning him to be remembered as a “manipulative politician.”

In reality, Gerry was said to be opposed to the partisan redistricting and reluctant to sign the legislation.

In the United States, state electoral maps are redrawn in response to the latest national census. The results are often criticized as unbridled partisan politics.

Those challenging the outcome file lawsuits and hold protest rallies, hoisting placards in the shape of electoral maps, which sometimes resemble a giant snake, prawn or earthworm.

Whether the shape is weird or not is a focal issue of argument in courts.

A government panel on June 16 presented a proposal for redrawing the Lower House electoral districts. This will be the largest-ever overhaul, involving as many as 140 of the 289 single-seat constituencies.

To meet the “add 10 (seats), take away 10 (seats)” goal, the number of districts will be reduced from four to three in some prefectures.

In one city ward, only a certain area covered by a neighborhood association will be split from the rest of the ward and incorporated into a neighboring electoral district.

The overhaul is designed to rectify a longstanding vote-value disparity, but voters may have a hard time adjusting to the new map for a while.

A no-confidence motion against Lower House Speaker Hiroyuki Hosoda included this line: “Here is the Hosomander of Reiwa Era Japan instead of the U.S. gerrymander.”

It refers to Hosoda’s opposition to the “add 10, take away 10” seat redistribution formula, which he described as “bullying the provinces.”

The legitimacy of the authority conferred upon politicians is contingent on the fairness of the electoral map.

As an elected official himself, Hosoda was hopelessly mistaken to meddle with the rezoning formula.

I looked at the proposed electoral map for the nation from north to south. So far, no salamander nor a giant snake has appeared. I am relieved, at least for now.

--The Asahi Shimbun, June 18

* * *

Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.