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Asahi Shimbun

January 15, 2004

Weighty Issue: Top court upholds election
January 15, 2004

The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled the July 2001 Upper House election was constitutional, even though a single vote in Tottori Prefecture was worth 5.06 ballots in Tokyo.

However, six of the 15 judges on the Grand Bench dissented from the majority decision and criticized the government for failing to create a more equitable electoral system for the Upper House.

The plaintiffs, mainly lawyers living in Tokyo, contested the realignment of seats in the Upper House in 2000, which produced a system in which a vote by an individual in the least populated Tottori Prefecture was worth 5.06 times the vote of an individual in Tokyo.

Half of the Upper House's 242 seats are up for election every three years. But the system was changed to give rural prefectures like Tottori at least two Upper House seats to ensure the prefectures' voters get to cast ballots every three years.

Meanwhile, heavily populated Tokyo remained represented by eight seats.

The majority decision backed the distribution practice for the Upper House and criticized a proposal to give the 15 least populated prefectures only a single seat. The ruling said the proposal would be unfair since voters in those prefectures would only get to vote once every six years.

Judges who gave dissenting opinions said the current distribution of seats was inherently unfair because of the huge discrepancy in the value of votes between the most and least populated prefectures.

Judge Tokuji Izumi pointed out that 35 percent of Japan's population elect half of the Upper House members selected through prefectural districts.

The ruling was one in four separate lawsuits seeking to annul the 2001 Upper House election. In every case, the Supreme Court upheld the election as constitutional.

The court in a unanimous agreement said the new voting system for the proportional representation constituency of the Upper House election was constitutional.

Voters for the first time in 2001 were allowed to write in either the name of a party or a candidate listed on the party roster. Seats were distributed to parties according to total votes received by the party and individual candidates.

Plaintiffs argued that votes cast for an individual should not be counted toward a party's vote total.

However, the Supreme Court ruled that since all candidates listed on the roster were under the party name, such a system was within the bounds of the Diet's discretion.

(IHT/Asahi: January 15,2004)

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