World / Asia-Pacific

Suits seek to nullify Japan's poll results

By News Desk (asianewsnet) Updated: 2012-12-19 11:10

Two groups of Japanese lawyers have filed lawsuits demanding the results of Sunday's House of Representatives election be nullified in 27 constituencies because the election was held under an electoral zoning system that the Supreme Court has ruled was in "a state of unconstitutionality."

lawyers filed the suits Monday with eight high courts and six of their branches nationwide.

When similar lawsuits were filed following the 2009 lower house election, some of the high courts concluded the election was held "in a state of unconstitutionality," while others concluded the election was "unconstitutional." Therefore, their decisions on the latest lawsuits are expected to attract wide attention. Rulings on the suits are expected as early as next spring.

Vote-value disparities become apparent when the number of voters a lawmaker represents varies by constituency. Vote values tend to become diluted in electoral districts in heavily populated urban areas compared with those in less populated rural areas.

In March last year, the Supreme Court ruled that a disparity of up to 2.3-to-1 in the weight of votes in the 2009 general election was "in a state of unconstitutionality." The top court called for abolishment of the electoral zoning system for the single-seat constituency segment of general elections, under which one seat is allocated to each prefecture, with the remaining distributed in proportion to the population--a system the court blamed for the vote disparity.

The Diet passed a bill that would abolish the zoning system and eliminate five single-seat constituencies to rectify the vote-value disparities on November 16, when the lower house was dissolved.

However, Sunday's general election was held in what the Supreme Court called a "state of unconstitutionality" because time ran out for rezoning the relevant single-seat constituencies to eliminate the five seats.

As a result, the disparity in Sunday's election widened to 2.43-to-1 between the least represented Chiba Constituency No. 4 and the most represented Kochi Constituency No 3.

"It would not be acceptable for [lower house] members elected under [what the top court called] a state of unconstitutionality to pass bills and chose the prime minister," said lawyer Hidetoshi Masunaga at a press conference after filing the suits.

Another lawyer, Hideaki Kubota, called the legislation to rectify the vote-value disparities "unworthy of credit" because it was not reflected in Sunday's election.

"Judicial authorities should hold the Diet accountable for its failure to rectify the disparities [before the latest general election]," Kubota said. "And they should rule that the poll was invalid."

A key point in these lawsuits is how the courts would assess the Diet's inaction in rectifying the vote value disparities for more than a year since the Supreme Court ruled the current zoning system was "in a state of unconstitutionality."

The top court ruled that the 1983 House of Representatives election--with vote- value disparities similar to those in this election--was "unconstitutional." However, the election result was not nullified because the Diet was dissolved right after the court decision.

Court rulings related to vote disparities have become stricter in recent years. Among the 10 high court lawsuits involving the 2009 lower house election, vote value differences in four cases were ruled "unconstitutional." In three other cases, disparities were ruled "in a state of unconstitutionality."

It is possible that the courts will rule the latest election unconstitutional and the results invalid because the election was held "in a state of unconstitutionality" and lawmakers did not address the problem, observers say.

The Public Offices Election Law states the court should hand down a ruling in a trial in which a plaintiff seeks nullification of an election result within 100 days of a case being filed at the court. Therefore, the courts are expected to rule in the latest lawsuits by March.

The final rulings are expected to be made by the Supreme Court because the losing sides in the high courts--the plaintiffs or the election boards involved--would likely appeal to the top court.

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