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  1. 2014.10.01 [일본-노트] Electoral System (Reform 1993 and after)

[일본-노트] Electoral System (Reform 1993 and after)

[연구] Research 2014. 10. 1. 11:24

Changes in Electoral System: Before 1993 and after 1994


1. Overview


Before 1993

After 1994



Medium-size Election District

System (in effect since 1925)

Parallel system (winner-take-all)

Single Non-Transferable Vote

System (SNTV)

SNTV abolished

MMD System

Combination of SMD & PR System



1 vote per voter (1 candidate in the voter’s district)

2 votes per voter (1 for individual candidate from the district, 1 for party)

Changes in


- Lower house: 511 seats

·  1-6 seats per district, multi-member (130 districts)

- Lower house: 500 seats

·    300 seats from single member districts;

·    200 allocated (later reduced to 180) proportionally to parties in 11 regions (11 PR blocs)


-Intra-party Competition and Factionalism: Multiple candidates from single party competition (Multiple candidates can get into the parliament)

-Minority Party Representation despite small electorate support


-Single candidate from single party competition (only one candidate that attracts the largest share of vote in a district gets into the parliament)

-Main battlefield: SMDs > PR blocs


One-party dominant system

Candidate-centered election


Pork-barrel politics


(*vote for party < individuals)

Two-party system (i.e. DPJ)

Party-centered election

Collapse of power-balance: Increase of Prime Minister’s authority

Focus on issues and party position

(*vote for big issues < local issues, subsidies, welfare)



2. Before 1993: Multimember District System (中選挙区制)

·   Multi-member District system was used to elect the members of the House of Representatives from 1925 to 1993.

·   The lower house had 511 seats which were filled with candidates from 130 districts.

·   Every voter had one vote he could give to one candidate in his district.

·   In every district, one to six seats were filled in an election. For these seats, a number of candidates ran. The candidates with the highest votes would fill these seats in descending order. It was common for multiple candidates from the same party to run for these seats.

·   A political party that wanted to win a majority of seats had to run more than one candidate, creating a particular kind of political competition. This generated intra-party competition.

·   This was unfavorable to the LDP, in which candidates competed with one another. Sometimes, this resulted in one candidate doing very well, leading to the defeat of another LDP candidate, even though the party was much more popular than any of the opposition parties that were running in the election.

·   The candidate-centered political style in Japan stemmed from this multi-member electoral system since multiple candidates from the LDP competed in each district, the LDP candidates had no choice but to differentiate themselves.


Consequences of Electoral System, Before 1993:

Positive Consequences

Negative Consequences

·   Minority Representation: Under this system, minor parties were able to survive even though they were not supported by a majority of the electorate. Therefore small party like the Komeito with approximately 10% of the popular vote could still win some seats.


·   Intra-party competition and Factionalism: Intra-party competition led to factionalism in the LDP. If there are multiple candidates running from the same party in the same district, each one of those candidates would look to a different faction leader for support.

·   Candidate-centered Election: Since multiple candidates from the LDP competed in each district, the LDP candidates could not simply rely on the party’s name for electoral victory but needed to differentiate themselves and maintain personal supporters.

·   Pork-barrel politics and Corruption: Multi-member District system created incentives for legislators to specialize in localized behavior, leading to political corruption and inefficient public spending.




3. Since 1994 after the reform

(Reference: Prefecture & PR map excerpted from http://www.highschooltimes.jp/news/cat24/000030.html)


Single Member District + Proportional Representation

·   Electoral-reform bill passed in the Diet in January 1994

·   Single-Member District (SMD) and proportional presentation (小選挙区比例代表並立制)

·   The lower house has 500 seats

1) 300 of them are filled with candidates from Single Member Districts (SMD)

2) The other 200 (later reduced to 180) allocated proportionally to the different parties in 11 regions.

=> Every voter therefore cast two votes - one for individual candidate and one for party

·   SMD: Japan is divided into 300 SMDs in which different candidates run against each other. In order to maximize their share of the vote, it makes sense for parties to have only one candidate running. The candidate that attracts that largest share of the vote in a district gets into the parliament.

·   PR Bloc: In the 11 regions each voter can give one vote to a party. The seats within the region – they vary from 7 to 33 – are then allocated to the parties proportionally based on the proportion of the vote they were able to attract.


Consequences & Effects 

1)    Weakening of Political Factions

It is no longer necessary for a candidate to get a faction’s support to help him/her fight against other candidates of the same party like in MMD system. And so from the point of view of the faction leaders, it's no longer necessary, or there's no longer an opportunity, to support a candidate who can run against a member of another faction that that leader is opposed to. So the whole rationale for factionalism is to some extent compromised by this new election system.

2)    The increase in the number of “floating voters”, who support different parties in succeeding elections.


3)    Threshold Effect (Hirano)

Reference: Shigeo Hirano (2006)


Before 1993 (MMD)

After 1994 (SMD+PR)

·          MMD electoral systems in which votes are cast for individual candidates provide strong incentives for candidates to cultivate narrow subconstituencies(cost & corruption).

·          Candidates have an incentive to choose positions dispersed along the policy space away from the median voter.


·          Under SMD, the incentives to cultivate broader cross sections of district constituencies

·          make incumbents less likely to choose policies that ignore the interests of particular geographic subconstituencies within their district, especially areas that are part of their party’s electoral base.

     = Weakening link between incumbents and geographically defined subconstituencies


4.) Failure to change the focus of election campaigns away from candidates to political issues and differences in basic party platforms.

After all, candidates who run in a local constituency are going to say the things that are important to the people who vote in that local constituency, and that tends to be issues that are of direct relevance to their daily life — whether they get more subsidies, if they're in a rural community or whether they get more daycare centers, if they're living in an urban community — and other issues that are very local and that don't relate to big issues of Japan's role in the world or issues of overriding national importance.





  • 박철희 (2011) 자민당정권과 전후체제의 변용, 『아시아리뷰』, 1권 제2.
  • Raymond Christensen, Electoral Reform in Japan: How it was Enacted and Changes it May Bring (1994)
  • Shigeo Hirano (2002), Electoral Systems and Threshold Effects: Quantitative Evidence from the Japanese Experience in the 1990s, available at http://politics.as.nyu.edu/docs/IO/4754/hirano.pdf, accessed on September 29th, 2014
  • Shigeo Hirano (2006), Electoral Institutions, Hometowns, and Favored Minorities, World Politics, Volume 59, Number 1, October 2006, pp. 51-82

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