EXPLAINER: How the electoral system can help both politicians and voters


The two-part voting system for lower house elections has long been in place in Japan, but many are still confused by the mechanism and how it benefits politicians or the public.

The Asahi Shimbun exchanges information with readers on social media and presents a column to educate them on various political topics.

An official in her 30s in Saitama Prefecture, north of Tokyo, asked the column to explain Japan’s electoral framework, which combines single-member constituencies and proportional representation.

“The system is difficult to understand,” she wrote. “Does this work in favor of politicians? “

Voters in a Lower House election arrive at polling stations, have their ID checked and are given two strips of paper to record a candidate’s name and preferred political party.

The candidate’s name is used for the single-member constituency system while the registered party is for the proportional representation segment.

For the 465-seat lower house, 289 members are elected from single-member constituencies and the remaining 176 are chosen from 11 proportional representation blocks.

Some candidates campaign in both systems because losers in one-seat races can still win seats in the Lower House through the proportional representation framework.

“To win through the proportional representation system, candidates use a wide range of tactics in their campaigns,” said Kaoru Matsuda, 41, a seasoned campaign manager.

Proportional representation politicians are elected on the basis of the percentages of votes obtained by their parties. Seats are allocated to those best placed on the party’s candidate lists.

If more than one candidate occupies the same spot on the list, the one who lost in a single-member constituency but came closest to winning it will win the proportional representation seat based on the total number of ballots received.

This is seen as an advantage of the dual framework electoral system, which was introduced in the 1996 Lower House elections to replace multi-member constituencies.

Only one candidate can win in a single-member constituency, which means that the ballots cast for the losers in the race could be considered “wasted” votes in terms of representation in the Diet.

In addition, the number of seats won by a party could be disproportionate to the total number of votes obtained by party candidates in all single-member constituencies.

If candidate A gets 100,001 votes and candidate B loses by one round, the opinions of 100,000 voters in B would not be reflected in politics without the proportional representation system.

“Ballots for rejected politicians in their single-member constituencies can still be used to reflect the different views of voters (through the proportional representation mechanism),” Matsuda said. “This is the merit of the system.

He mentioned a battle between a candidate backed by the ruling coalition and an opposition backed politician for the same single-member constituency.

Although the coalition candidate took an overwhelming lead, the opposition candidate made remarks to supporters of his rival, insisting that it “will be better for this region to have two lawmakers” and that “The members in power and the opposition are necessary for the Diet”.

The opposition-backed candidate lost in the single-member constituency but received more votes than initially expected and won a seat in the proportional representation segment.

“The (opposition) candidate managed to split the ballots,” Matsuda said.

Some overseas countries have either proportional representation seats or single-member constituencies.

Borda counting is also a commonly used method abroad. Voters award, for example, three points, two points and one point to the first, second and third candidates. The big winner is determined based on the total scores.

“The election results could change dramatically depending on the voting system,” Matsuda said. “Voters should discuss how to better reflect the views of citizens, who have sovereignty. “

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