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Home > Media Reviews > News Review Last Updated: 14:53 03/09/2007
News Review #226: June 24, 2004

Japan's Upper House Lawmakers Begin Race for Election

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

"Japan's Upper House Lawmakers Begin Race for Election"


The article reports that the official campaign period has begun today for the election of upper house of the diet on July 11, and provides some insight from a journalistic point of view.

In order to help understand the real implications of the election, it may worth back stepping a little, before the campaign heats up. First, to review elementary politics.

Most of the democratic societies in the world currently adopt the concept of separation of powers, or trias politica, where the powers of the government is split into three branches, executive, legislature, and judiciary. And the majority of large developed countries have two chambers in the legislative branch, where laws of the land are adopted. Although the specific naming vary from country to country, in accordance with regulatory or customary reasons, they can be referred to as, and most of the time without ambiguities as to which is which, the upper house and the lower house.

The upper house of the UK is called the House of Lords, and the lower house the House of Commons. In the US, they are the Senate and the House of Representatives. And in Japan, the House of Councillors and the House of Representatives.

While the lower house is generally composed of members elected by the people, and the election is executed in a relatively simple system to reflect popularity, the characteristics of the upper house differ from country to country.

In federated states, such as the US, Germany, and Australia, the upper house is designed to reflect the views of each state or region forming the federation. In the UK, and in some other countries, the members of the upper house are appointed under certain procedures. In these countries, the power of the upper house is generally weak in comparison to the lower house, because democracy commands that the supreme power lies with the people, and it is the lower house indeed elected by the people.

Japan falls into yet another category. Although there are technicalities as to how the constituencies are formed and the number of delegates assigned to each of them, the members of the upper house are elected, through direct popular vote, essentially similar to that of the lower house. In fact, this procedural characteristic has kept blurring the difference between the two chambers, and threatening the raison d'etre of the upper house.

It is generally recognized that the lower house has superiority over the upper house. From statutory point of view, the lower house has the precedence on such matters as the nomination of the Prime Minister, overriding voting power on bills in general, priorities in discussion of budget bills and approval of treaties. On the other hand, while the lower house could be dissolved by the Prime Minister at any time, and in fact never have stayed the stipulated maximum of four years, the upper house has the tenure of six years without dissolution, with half of the members elected every three years.

The upper house has been criticized of it being just rubber-stamping the lower house, with all its redundancies and extra time and hassle to slow down the whole process at enormous cost, the cost both in terms of policy advancement and real expense. Some have ironically commented that it could, however, serve as a very effective instrument to measure, through its elections at regular intervals, the popularity of the government and its opponents, along with the people's desire and frustration.

Copyright © Japanese Institute of Global Communications