assessing electoral system_ a code on Japan_ Giovanni Sartori_ 1993

Giovanni Sartori on Japan’s SNTV

The complications that have complicated the understanding of Japan’s case do not reside in its electoral system, but – I submit- in the Japanese party system and in the manner in which its predominant protagonist (the LDP) has carved its way into an SNTV arrangement. To wit, in order to attain and maintain its absolute majority of parliamentary seats the LDP has had to win for itself an average of two seats out of every four. In principle, SNTV is supposed to hurt large parties and to favor medium-sized ones. In part this intention is accomplished. Assuming a four-member constituency (the average size), the vote cost of the last winner, the fourth one, ranges at the 20 percent level (and can descend to 15 percent in the five-member constituencies). But the aforesaid intent is largely overcome by the LDP’s ability in avoiding two miscalculations, respectively, over-nomination (presenting too many candidates that are all defeated) and under-nomination (wasting too many voters on a single candidate). This exploitation of the electoral system brings about very negative side-effects, for the arrangement prompts  a candidate-centered competition, that is , bitter infighting among candidates of the same party, and thus a very high degree of intra-party divisiveness. This is tantamount to saying  that the LDP obtains a highly fractionalized and factionalized structure:  it is less a party with factions and more a party of factions. Indeed, the very financing of politics- which has become enormously expensive– is almost entirely channeled with the factions and directly to the incumbents.

While the Japanese electoral system did not require, I believe, the tortuous explanations provided in the literature, still it has evolved in a manner that serves no purpose and that engenders more drawbacks than advantages. The Japanese were well advised to drop it. Whether their new electoral system is a wise one is, however, a different matter.

page 23-24.

Comparative Constitutional Engineering: An Inquiry into Structures, Incentives and Outcomes 

2nd Edition  Giovanni Sartori (1997)

Macmillan Press Ltd.


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