LDP Rebel Stands Firm on Addressing Vote Disparity
Interview with Electoral Reform Proponent Waki Masashi
[2015.08.28] Read in: 日本語 |

In July 2015, an amendment was passed to the Public Offices Election Act to reform the House of Councillors electoral system, which the Supreme Court has ruled as being in a “state of unconstitutionality” due to vote disparity. The compromise agreement still leaves significant regional disparities in the weight of one vote, however, prompting Waki Masashi to leave the LDP parliamentary group in protest. Nippon.com interviews the reform-minded upper house legislator.

Waki Masashi

Waki MasashiThree-term member of the House of Councillors (elected as a Liberal Democratic Party, proportional representation candidate). Born in 1945 in Tokyo. Graduated from the Faculty of Engineering, University of Tokyo, and entered the Construction Ministry (now the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism) in 1967, becoming manager of the River Planning Division and director general of the Kinki Regional Construction Bureau. First elected to the House of Councillors in 1998 and has been the secretary general for LDP members in the upper house and chairman of the council for upper house electoral reform. Left the LDP upper house parliamentary group in July 2015 and voted against the bill, submitted by the LDP and four opposition groups, to amend the Public Offices Election Act through the reorganization of prefectural electoral districts.

A Lawmaker’s Responsibility

INTERVIEWER  You’ve been a prominent member of the Liberal Democratic Party, serving as its secretary general in the House of Councillors and chairman of the upper house Diet Affairs Committee. But you broke ranks and voted against the electoral reform bill submitted by your party and chose to leave the LDP-led voting group. Can you tell us your motivations for your decision?

WAKI MASASHI  Well, let me start by describing the situation faced by the House of Councillors. As you know, the Supreme Court ruled that the two most recent upper house elections were in a “state of unconstitutionality.” This means that although the elections were held under conditions so unfair as to be unconstitutional, we were given the benefit of the doubt—we didn’t have time to correct the situation. The court gave us a chance to make the changes necessary so that the next election would be in line with the constitutional guarantee of one person, one vote.

Three years ago, we made cosmetic changes, increasing the number of seats in two populous prefectures and reducing the number in two densely populated ones—with the promise in the bill’s supplementary provisions that we would undertake sweeping reforms before the next election. That’s a very serious promise. We’re lawmakers, and we would be acting totally irresponsibly if we can’t keep the promises in the laws that we make.

I chaired an upper house council on electoral reform and issued a draft proposal in April 2014 [combining 22 prefecture-based districts to narrow the votes-per-seat disparity to 1.83 to 1], asking all the parties to submit counterproposals. Members of my own party were flabbergasted and ignored our request.

Only Two Ways to Narrow the Gap

WAKI  There are only two ways to close the gap in the value of a vote. One is to combine electoral districts—which are now arranged by prefecture—so that some districts span two or more prefectures. And the other is to elect all members through proportional representation. The LDP and the Democratic Party of Japan were both of the opinion that the current system of electing members through both local constituencies and proportional representation should be left intact so as to broaden the pool of candidates. This meant that a proposal to elect all members through proportional representation would never pass, and our only option was to go with the idea of combining prefecture-based districts.

As a member of the Diet, I couldn’t propose a plan if I weren’t sure it would be judged constitutional. Some people might think that’s naïve, but as someone charged with making the laws of our country, I couldn’t imagine doing otherwise. I didn’t want to lend my support to a bill that I knew could be judged unconstitutional, so that’s why I chose to leave the LDP’s voting bloc.

INTERVIEWER  In the press conference announcing your decision, you said you were disappointed by the vehement criticism voiced by your LDP colleagues, which exposed a fundamental lack of commitment to compliance with the law.

WAKI  I found it disgraceful. Prime Minister Abe often talks about the importance of the rule of law, and it was based on the need to address the legal concerns expressed by the Supreme Court that we were instructed three years ago to make sweeping changes to the upper house electoral system. But this turned out to be mere talk. Any attempt to take action was fiercely resisted. The opposition parties all submitted counterproposals, some more willingly than others, as we requested, but there was no response from the LDP. Ultimately, the party merely backed a plan drafted by four opposition parties. If lawmakers have no qualms about disregarding the laws they create, I’d say that the very foundations of our system of governance may be crumbling. I’m quite troubled by the reactions of my Diet colleagues.

  • [2015.08.28]
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