Voting for Dummies

771px-Vote-BoxOn December 16, the Japanese will cast their vote in favour of a new Prime Minister. Expected is that Abe Shinzō, party leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, will overthrow the ruling of the Democratic Party of Japan since 2009. Next to the LDP and the DPJ, the third likely favourite is Ishihara’s brand-new Sunrise Party. Two critical items on the political agenda voters are concerned about, are the raise of the consumer tax and the future energy policy. The first one already proved to be hazardous. Noda paid for it dearly with his resignation. He dissolved the Diet on 16 November 2012.

So how does the national voting system (tōhyō seido 投票制度) in Japan works? The Diet consists of two chambers: The House of Representatives/Lower House (shugiin 衆議院) and The House of Councillors/House of Lords (sangiin 参議院). I’ll make the differences clear by the following table:

Lower House House of Lords
term 4 years 6 years
member’s age 25+ 30+
can be dissolved? yes no
elections normal staggered (but half of the members is replaced at the time)
voting system parallel :- first-past-the-post (300 seats)- party list proportional representation (180 seats in 11 block districts) parallel:- single non-transferable vote (146 seats in prefectural districts)- party list proportional representation (96 seats, nationwide)
powerful? yes, can block legislation not very, can only delay

So what the Japanese are going to vote for Sunday, is the composition of the Lower House. The party who has the most seats, will automatically deliver the Prime Minister.

On the voting lists for proportional representation (hireidaihyō 比例代表) you write down the name of the political party. That means, voters have little influence on the ranking of party members within their party. First-past-the-post-voting (shōsenkyohyō 小選挙区) includes ‘the winner takes it all’-principle, assigning a seat to the lucky ones with the most votes, regardless of the party they belong to. On this voting paper you write the name of the candidate.

Voting is not compulsory in Japan. In 2009, 69.27% of the eligible voters went voting in a polling station. To be eligible means to be citizen and older than 20 years. Foreigners are excluded in voting. Since 1990 permanent residents, especially Koreans, have been requesting the right of voting. Since the elections of 2009, political parties are considering a draft law. Next to that, lowering the voting age too has become a topic of discussion since 2007. In most countries it has been reduced to 18.

Let’s compare with the voting system in Belgium. In Belgium the legislative session of the Federal Parliament is 4 years (ends earlier in case of dissolution, like last time in 2010). The Parliament consists of the Chamber of Representatives and the Senate. Again a hopefully clarifying table:

Chamber of Representatives Senate
term 4 years 4 years
member’s age 21+ 21+, royal family 18+
can be dissolved? yes when Chamber is dissolved, Senate follows automatically
elections 150 members elected directly by the people of 71 members, 40 elected directly by the people
voting system proportional representation in 11 electorial districts and 5% election threshold proportional representation in 11 electorial districts and 5% election threshold
powerful? yes, can block legislation narrow qualification

In the Senate there are 31 members not elected directly by the voters. 21 of them are community senators, appointed by the Parliament of the Community (Flanders, Walloon or Brussels). Next to that there are 10 so-called co-opted senators, appointed by the language groups of the Senate. And last but not least, 3 senators by right: the children of the ruling monarch, if older than 18 years. The election threshold means that a political party has to gain at least 5% of all votes to obtain a seat in the Parliament.

Belgians are obliged to vote. However, the 2009 voter turnout happens to be only 89.22%, for the first time under 90%. Not casting your vote is considered a crime, but in fact you won’t be prisoned. You could be given a fine, although. Next federal elections will be held in 2014. I’m already looking forward to it…?

Facts for Fun

– Belgium tried last time in local elections to use in certain districts a computer instead of aJapan_Women_Vote pencil to fill in the voting paper. Digitally voting didn’t seem so satisfactory, as pushing too hard on the touch screen produced an extra preference vote for someone on that list.

– Japanese women received voting right in 1947, Belgian women in 1948.


– I got the greatest part of information from my courses ‘policy in Japan’ and ‘Belgian law’.

– voting results: IDEA

– photos from Wikipedia Commons


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