Monday, April 01, 2013

We Will Defy Reality

On Sunday's premier talk show, NHK's Nichiyo Toron, Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Ishiba Shigeru defended his party's two plans for reforming the House of Representatives: the first being a new electoral map subtracting five district seats from the House membership (Link) and the second a cut of 30 proportional seats in tandem with a bewildering new system of handing out proportional seats to be bolted on atop the existing system.

As for the attack, it came from an Democratic Party of Japan Secretary-General Hosono Goshi, joining the conversation via video link. Eyes strangely bloodshot, Hosono did little more than read from the decisions of the various high courts around the country finding the December 2012 elections unconstitutional. His message was simple: the bills the LDP and its ally the New Komeito are proposing do not answer the requests the courts have made as regards reform of the way the House of Representatives is selected.

[And what are we to make of a Nichiyo Toron debate between only the secretary-generals of the LDP and the DPJ? Should not the Japan Renewal Party's secretary-general been there too, via video-link, at the very least? The JRP was, after all, the #2 vote winner in the 2012 House of Representatives election. What prompted NHK to abandon its practice of inviting speakers from every party, no matter how small that party's Diet membership?]

Ishiba's response to Hosono's gentle hammering was stunning: the LDP and the New Komeito would pass the electoral reform bills, even if the House of Councillors voted against them. The ruling coalition would use its supermajority to override the upper house’s rejection . (Link – J)

There is defiance – and there is nuts. Ishiba's threat edges into the latter territory.

The ruling coalition's first problem would be the use of a House of Representatives supermajority to overturn a decision of the House of Councillors. Over the last three weeks of March, 14 of 16 high courts ruled that the December 2012 House of Representatives elections were unconstitutional. The two remaining courts found that the elections were conducted in "a state of unconstitutionality." The authority and legitimacy of the House of Representatives are thus suspect.

Second, when the Council on House of Representatives Electoral Districts handed its new electoral map to the government, not even national broadcaster NHK could restrain itself from pronouncing the plan dead on arrival. After a segment on the ceremony handing over the new map to the government (Link), including a dutiful explanation of the way the Council reduced the difference between the number of voters in the largest district and the smallest district to 1.998 -- a hair under the Supreme Court mandated constitutional limit of 2.0 -- announcer Inoue Asahi, in a devastating hand-off, sighed to her co-announcer Ogoshi Kensuke, "With a continuing shifts of population, the difference will rise above 2.0 in very little time, sending us right back into a state of unconstitutionality."

Inoue, it turns out, was being more than prophetic. The Sankei Shimbun, not by any means an enemy of the LDP, has checked the population numbers of the districts against the new council map, using the municipal population figures from January 2013. The Sankei's findings: of the ten largest population districts on the new map, eight are already above the 2.0 limit. (Link – J)

While it is true that the law only requires the council on electoral districts to have its map conform to population distributions as reflected in the decennial census (the last of which was conducted in October 2010) -- that the map is already in a de facto state of unconstitutionality means the council performed its duties in only the most perfunctory way.

If the LDP and the New Komeito want the Supreme Court to defer to the elected branch of government on matters of the constitutionality of the districts, then swearing to pass the pseudo-reform bills over the expressed objection of the properly elected House of Councillors is a hell of a way of displaying the magnanimity, graciousness and humility the Supreme Court will be looking for in return for its own surrender of its unquestionable authority over these matters (Article 81, Constitution of Japan).

Later - The Mainichi checks in with an English language account of Ishiba's stunning threat to pass the bill through a House of Representatives override. (Link)

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