Looking at the big picture

The LDP-Komeito coalition, after weeks of wrangling with the DPJ, passed its version of a law revising the Political Funds Control Law over DPJ opposition.

The law stipulates that politicians’ fund management organizations are to copy and provide receipts for expenditures above ¥50,000. Will it make any difference in stopping political corruption? In a word, no. As the Asahi editorial on the bill’s imminent passage noted, the bill provides for transparency “in name only,” with the giant loophole being that expenditures can be broken up into pieces smaller than ¥50,000 to escape detection (hence the DPJ draft calling for a ¥10,000 floor).

Meanwhile, the government’s management of the legislative agenda has prompted public criticism from former Finance Minister Tanigaki Sadakazu, who criticized Abe for stubbornly insisting on passage of the “amakudari” law (another law that will most likely do little more than serve as window dressing for the cabinet in advance of the Upper House elections). Tanigaki’s comments were met with rebuttals from Ministers Aso and Ibuki, as well as Machimura Nobutaka, head of the faction to which Abe belongs.

Far more interesting than the increasingly public political wrangling among senior LDP officials is another story that illustrates the vast divide between the world views of Asahi and Yomiuri.

Asahi gave front page coverage to a ruling by Japan’s Supreme Court on a lawsuit that challenged the results of the 2005 Lower House election on the basis that the 2.17:1 disparity in the value of the votes of citizens in the least (Tokushima 1) and most populous (Tokyo 6) districts was unconstitutional. A favorable ruling would have invalidated the election results, and it seems unlikely that the court would have done so — but even so, the suit was dismissed by a 9 to 6 verdict.

But while the short-term impact of this issue is nil, this is yet another battle in the ongoing urban-rural war in Japan, as rural Japan — the LDP’s depopulating base — continues to hold a disproportionate number of Diet seats and therefore a disproportionate share of political power, in the interest of ensuring that the views of depopulated regions are considered. The Asahi editorial on this subject is worth reading, as it shows that this issue will only grow in importance, as the disparity continues to widen (see this post on population change). As the population changes, Japan will have to consider how to ensure a better balance between urban and rural constituencies, and as the relevance of rural Japan diminishes, how to ensure that rural constituencies are not entirely forgotten. This also, of course, has implications for the growth of a two-party system; redistribution from depopulating rural prefectures almost necessarily means a loss of seats for the LDP, especially once the LDP’s abnormal urban vote total in the 2005 Lower House election returns to earth.

Sooner or later advocates of further redistricting will succeed in having seats shifted from rural to urban Japan — although the LDP will work to push that day back as long as possible. But the urban-rural divide, and the impact a decisive shift to urban Japan will have on policy, will likely be one of the most important developments in political Japan in the medium to long term, certainly more significant than the legislation being rammed through the Diet by the Abe Cabinet in the final weeks of the regular session of the Diet.

And yet Yomiuri felt that its readers had no need to know about this court decision.

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