Census confirms population shrinkage, vote-value disparities

Japan’s population shrank 0.7 percent over the past five years and now stands at 127.1 million, the internal affairs ministry said Friday, citing figures from the partial census conducted on Oct. 1.

Population drops have been estimated as far back as 2012, when the ministry calculated that 2011 was the tipping point, but this is the first time a drop has been confirmed by a census. The twice-a-decade counts have been conducted since 1920.

The ministry did not release a breakdown of residents by nationality Friday, but an official said the foreign population is rising. That rise, however, is not large enough to offset the decline in the Japanese.

The ministry plans to release more details in October, including figures for non-Japanese residents.

A full census is held every ten years and a partial one halfway through each decade.

The figures may spur the government to take further action against population decline, but the census results also highlighted the vote-value disparities growing between urban and rural areas.

This difference in the value of votes cast has been eroding the constitutional principle of one person, one vote and has cast doubt on the accuracy of the nation’s elections.

The findings will put more pressure on the slow-acting Diet to pursue electoral reforms. The Supreme Court has already described election results over the past several years as being “in a state of unconstitutionality.”

According to the results of the partial census, Tokyo has the largest population of all 47 prefectures at 13.51 million.

The top nine — Tokyo, Kanagawa, Osaka, Aichi, Saitama, Chiba, Hyogo, Hokkaido and Fukuoka — account for 53.9 percent of the nation’s population, underlining a broad migration to urban areas that is still underway.

Eight prefectures, including Okinawa, Tokyo, Aichi and Saitama, had more residents than in 2010, when the last full census was conducted. In all, 39 prefectures saw declines, with Akita logging the sharpest fall of 5.8 percent, followed by Fukushima at 5.7 percent and Aomori and Kochi with 4.7 percent each.

As far as electoral districts go, Miyazaki No. 5 was the least-populated district at 272,077 people. This means one vote there is worth 2.334 times that of a single vote in the Tokyo No. 1 district, which with 635,097 residents is the most populated district.

There are 295 single-seat constituencies in the Lower House.

In all, the disparity was more than double in 37 single-seat constituencies nationwide, the ministry said.

In November, the Supreme Court ruled that the 2014 Lower House election was held “in a state of unconstitutionality” because many districts had a vote-value gap ratio of more than 2-to-1.

The Supreme Court stopped short of invalidating the results, but the ruling means it will declare any vote-value ratio higher than 2-to-1 “unconstitutional” if no corrective steps are taken within a reasonable time frame.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has ordered executives of his Liberal Democratic Party to speed up electoral reform studies, apparently fearing the Supreme Court will declare the next general election unconstitutional if the Diet fails to take action.

The parties remain divided over how to correct the gaps, even though they earlier agreed to “respect” recommendations from a third-party electoral reform panel.

The panel last month submitted a report recommending that Diet seats be allocated based on the so-called Adams’ Method, named after John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the United States. The panel also advised reducing the Lower House by 10 seats to 465.

A distribution based on the Adams’ Method would be more proportional to the population than the current system, which gives at least one single-seat district to each of the 47 prefectures unconditionally.

However, Abe’s LDP, which has more seats in less-populated areas than other parties, has rebuffed the Adams’ Method so far.

If the Adams’ Method is adopted and the results of the new census are acted upon, 9 seats would be added and 15 seats eliminated in the single-seat constituencies of 10 prefectures, NHK has reported.

In this case, Tokyo would be given four more seats and Kanagawa two, while Chiba, Saitama and Aichi would get one more each.

Meanwhile, Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima, Niigata, Mie, Shiga, Nara, Hiroshima, Yamaguchi, Ehime, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Kagoshima and Okinawa prefectures would lose a seat each.

But the LDP has argued against increasing the number of seats anywhere and for eliminating six, which would retain the current system allocating at least one single-seat district per prefecture.

The panel also recommended that Diet seat distribution be reviewed and reformed every 10 years in response to the findings of each full census.

The LDP’s executives claim the Diet does not need to introduce the Adams’ Method until 2020, when the next such full census is scheduled to take place.

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