Sunday, December 02, 2007

On second chambers: The Japanese House of Councillors

After a much longer break than I'd planned, a return to my look at second chambers around the world. This time it's a look at the Japanese House of Councillors.

Composition: 242 members sitting for six year terms, with half elected at each election. 146 members are elected from the 47 prefectures by the Single Non-Transferable Vote and 96 from nationwide lists. It should be noted that this is not an Additional Member System but rather Parallel Voting where the results in one section of the election have no effect on the other.

Fairness of representation: The prefectures have quite a diversity of population, with the most populous, Tokyo having over twenty times the population of the least, Tottori. In a single election some prefectures elect one Councillor, others more than one and so consquently there's a malapportionment in favour of the smaller prefectures. The proportional element can water this down a little.

Powers and conventions: The House of Councillors is another of the stronger upper houses. It can consider almost all matters that the House of Representatives can; however in the event of deadlock between the two Houses the lower House can assert its will on budgets, treaties and the appointment of Prime Ministers after a period of time. On other matters it takes a two-thirds majority in the lower house to over-rule the upper.

Conflict resolution: In the event of a dispute between the two Houses, there is provision for time to reach agreement - 10 days for Prime Ministers, 30 days for treaties and budgets - then the decision of the House of Representatives is deemed to be the decision of the Diet as a whole.

For all other matters, if the House of Councillors either fails to pass a bill passed by the lower house within 60 days or passes unacceptable amendments then the House of Representatives can override the veto but it takes a two-thirds majority to do so.

Protector against the tyranny of the majority vs bastion against democracy: Both Houses are directly elected, albeit on different electoral systems and at different times. Consequently there's the option to split votes and elect a House of Councillors as a check & balance against an over powerful House of Representatives. It's rare for a single party or coalition to win a two-thirds majority in the lower house, although it did happen in the 2005 general election (which was called after the upper house voted down the privatisation of the post office). The most recent elections for the House of Councillors have seen control shift to the opposition, but so long as the Liberal Democratic Party and its allies the New Komeito Party maintain their two-thirds majority in the lower house then it seems the potential for gridlock is lessened. However the majority in the lower house is on a rare scale and a more normal majority would not be able to override an opposition majority in the upper house.

Anything else?: Not much more as the above covers the main features.

Anything worth copying?: Once again there's the benefit of split elections, so the question of which house has the greater legitimacy is removed. There's a clear mechanism to resolve a conflict between the two houses. It's also not possible for the upper house to bring down the government, a problem noted with the Australian Senate. On the other hand the prefectural system is something that doesn't have an obvious parallel in the UK, and the malapportionment may be hard to stomach, whilst the Single Non-Transferable Vote is one of the most complicated electoral systems to understand and very prone to attempts to manipulate it.

No comments:


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...