Hidetoshi Masunaga on Japanese Election Constitutional Lawsuit

Those unhappy with the landslide victory of the LDP in the last election on Sunday may get a second chance, if the lawsuits filed by Japanese lawyer Hidetoshi Masunaga are successful. As Japan Times reports in detail, he and many other lawyers are claiming that the election was violating the Constitution and should be declared void, and then repeated.

They claim that in a system with electoral districts, these districts need to be adjusted to population movements so as to make sure that each vote has the same weight, an issue discussed at Wikipedia under the title “malapportionment”.

I am writing about this because Mr. Masunaga yesterday visited Aoyama Gakuin University to talk about these issues to students and faculty. I also had the opportunity to discuss this topic over a dinner after his talk.

At the time I mentioned Lawrence Lessig’s effort to reform voting in the United States (Rootstrikers), which Mr. Masunaga was not familiar with, but seemed interested in. I pointed out that Lessig has an impossible task before him, since if all decisions in Congress are determined by lobby money, the last thing the lobbyists will let pass is any change of that situation, as blogged before in my review of Lessig’s book “One Way Forward”.

I then also asked what exactly was the influence of this problem on the result of the election. Is this something that benefits the LDP? Would solving this problem mean that the next Prime Minister would still be Noda?

His answer was that he doesn’t know, and that I may want to check that myself if I think it is interesting.

Yes, I think this is interesting when discussing this question. Actually, his case depends largely on the answer to this.

I recall that I watched the final of the FIFA Club World Cup at the time the polls were closed on Sunday. Then, after a countdown of the last ten seconds, the large picture of the election results showed up, predicting (correctly) a landslide LDP victory of close to 300 seats.

That was of course done by exit polls, which is asking only a small minority, but the way statistics work the result will be correct also for the whole picture, with a error of margin also very well known.

So, if Mr. Masunaga’s main point only is that the election may be decided by asking only a minority, that minority is still much larger than the sample of a poll. It can still reflect exactly the same result that would have happened with a perfectly adjusted districts landscape.

In contrast, if he can explain exactly how that changed the results of the election, he has a much better case. I would assume he might be interested in that.

Fortunately, for this particular election, any tweaking at the system resulting in a couple of seats more for the DPJ and less for the LDP won’t change anything about the big picture. For the record, the LDP got 294 seats, winning 176 more than it had before the election. The DPJ in contrast was reduced to 57, losing 173 seats, which is the most crushing defeat any ruling party in Japan has ever been dealt.

To turn that around over different districts is simply impossible. There is no need to even start checking. That’s just common sense.

But just for the fun of it, let’s try to check anyway, reducing the analysis only to the contest between LDP and DPJ (this is already too long).

I start out from the fact that LDP won 237 district seats, while the DPJ won only 27.

So let’s check if these 27 wins are biased in any way. Are they all in city districts with many voters, and consequently less weight per vote?

At first sight, that does not seem to be the case at all. In this section of the Japanese Wikipedia article on the election all the district winners are easily checked, and it turns out that the DPJ has wins all over the country.

And checking in more detail, it turns out that the LDP crushed the DPJ in the ten districts with the most voters (and the least weight per vote). They won all of them except Chiba 4, which was carried by outgoing Prime Minister Noda. So there is no way the DPJ could have won if just the district map would have been drawn somewhat else.

That explains why Mr. Masunaga wouldn’t want to know about this. It actually weakens his case if you find out that while in theory one person one vote makes sense, this has been without any measurable influence on the big picture of this particular election.

On the other hand, it does make sense to adjust districts to changes in population. And if the present system is not favorable to one particular party, and especially not favorable to the most powerful LDP, it will be that much easier to actually change the law, which is in stark contrast to Lessig’s fight in the United States.




Published by kflenz

Professor at Aoyama Gakuin University, Tokyo. Author of Lenz Blog (since 2003, lenzblog.com).

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