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Hiroko Kudo

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The Significance of Elections - Balancing Representativeness, Cost and Governability

Hiroko Kudo
Professor, Faculty of Law, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: Political Science, Public Policy, Public Management

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Reconsidering the meaning of elections

This article is being published the day after the governor election voting of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. The winner will have already been revealed by the time this is published. However, the author does not know yet who has won as the author is writing this article in the middle of the electoral campaign. Therefore, rather than give an election forecast or an analysis of the manifestos of the candidates, here the author would like to consider the fundamental meaning of elections.

The voters of Tokyo have chosen their governor three times in the last three years. In the election of April 10, 2011 at the end of his previous term, the incumbent governor Shintaro Ishihara was elected for his fourth term, but he resigned just after 18 months. The subsequent election held on December 16, 2012, the same day as the election for the House of Representatives, was a landslide victory for the then vice governor Naoki Inose, widely regarded as Mr. Ishihara’s successor. Governor Inose, however, was forced to resign due to a scandal related to funding from the Tokushukai hospital group, which is the reason of this latest election. An election to select a representative is without a doubt an important opportunity to elicit public opinion, and voting is obviously the right and duty of citizens. But as Tokyo governors elected in this very election resign and force voters for successive voting, it is only natural to question the meaning of elections.

In Osaka city, on the other hand, Mayor Toru Hashimoto has caused wide repercussions by announcing his intention to resign and call a fresh election. First elected as Mayor in November 2011, he says the purpose of the new election is to consult the will of voters regarding the stalled concept of establishing an Osaka Metropolitan Government. Since the political composition of the Osaka City Council will not change, it is natural to start wondering what significance this election will have. Mr. Hashimoto has also hinted that if he is unable to make a breakthrough even if he wins this fresh election, he may hold another election within a year. But elections should not be a means of advancing specific issues in the first place.

The operation cost of elections- expensive or cheap?

There has been a lot of attention on many features that are considered as the characteristics of this latest Tokyo governor’s election, such as the fact that the candidates include heavyweight veterans of national politics and even a former prime minister, and that there are many issues normally not brought up in local elections. Of particular note is the attention focused on the “operational cost of elections” borne by the taxpayers. For the author, as the electoral system is one of her research field, it is rather natural to consider various election-related costs, but this time it seems that this is the very first time that the mass media and social media have intensively argued about the “operational cost of elections.” Is this an indication of the voters’ fatigue towards election, or can it be a strategy of some media, which question why “inefficiency of politics” is not examined at all, while only the “inefficiency of government” is examined?

The figure of five billion yen has been thrown around online and elsewhere, and this is based on the supplementary budget of 4.99 billion yen formulated by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government for its governor’s election. The number of people eligible to vote in this election is 10.81 million, so the operational cost per voter is 454 yen. Whether this would be considered expensive or cheap depends on how election costs are perceived. It is interesting that the mass media, which had loudly praised the importance of democracy at all previous elections, has started to point out that the operational cost of elections which would normally be incurred once every four years, has incurred three times in the last three years once every three years, although one election was conducted less expensively because it was held on the same day as that of the House of Representatives.

The barometer of democracy

The debate over “cost of election” has until now been mainly about how much money candidates spend on electoral campaigns. It has been argued that a system which allows candidates to fight elections with less expenses is more desirable, and discussions have been made on elections that cost (or do not cost) money. This is because the democratic system should allow anyone eligible and not just those with abundant funds to run as a candidate in an election. Thus, the key issue has been about how to publicly run elections, in discussing government subsidies for political parties.

In this sense, “cost of election” is closely connected to the electoral system. In Japan, when her multiple-seat constituency system was revised to a mixed voting system that combined a Majoritarian System and Proportional Representation System, it was designed to realize less costly elections. Indeed, this new mixed voting system under which political parties compete against each other tends to make the election costs for individual candidates lower than the multiple-seat constituency system, under which candidates fought one other. However, the operational cost of elections rises due to the increase in the number of constituencies and voters being able to cast two votes.

There are various electoral systems around the world. Some, such as the Second Ballot Majority-Runoff System, can significantly reduce wasted votes (which increase in a Majoritarian System) but both the operational costs and campaigning costs of such elections are much more expensive. Under a Proportional Representation System, open party list is used instead of closed party list, thus voters express their preference votes and distribution of seats are proportional to the voting outcome, which seems more democratic, although the ballot costs, vote counting costs, and costs for candidates are all more expensive. This might be called the cost of democracy, but the cost-effectiveness cannot be ignored. An electoral system is designed to find a balance between how far the responsiveness could be realized and how much time and money should be spent.

Representativeness or governability?

It is also important to reach a balance between popular will and governance, not only between popular will and cost. Although Proportional Representation System secures the inclusion of minority voices, it does tend to lead to a Multi-party System and thus unstable governance. The Majoritarian System has issues of responsiveness because of wasted votes, but it can elect “strong candidates” while electing a small number of "strong parties" to produce stable governance. When selecting an electoral system, therefore, the balance between representativeness and governability is also pursued.

Italy’s Proportional Representative System with majority bonus, which prioritizes governability due to her historical background, was declared unconstitutional by the country’s Constitutional Court in December 2013 for not being responsive enough to public will. In the revision of the electoral system, the debate has concentrated on what percentage the bonus should be in order to secure representativeness while realizing governability. Seeking just to strengthen governability, as in the past, seems difficult now. All eyes are fixed on plans for a new electoral system and where the balance between representativeness and governability would be found. It may be time to reconsider the balance within the Japanese electoral system, in which representativeness has tended to be placed ahead of governability.

Hiroko Kudo
Professor, Faculty of Law, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: Political Science, Public Policy, Public Management
The author was born in Tokyo. She graduated from the School of Political Science and Economics, Major in Political Science, Waseda University in 1990 before completing the Political Science master degree at the Graduate School of Political Science of the same University in 1992. From 1992 to 1993 she attended the Department of Regional Sciences, Milan Polytechnic as an Italian government scholarship student. She received a Ph.D. in public policy from the University of Venice in 1998. From 1995 she served as Assistant Professor on the Faculty of Modern Social Sciences, Aichi Shukutoku University, and from 1998 as Assistant Professor and from 2003 as Associate Professor at the School of Education, Waseda University. From 2001 to 2002 she served as guest researcher at the Economic and Social Research Institute, Cabinet Office of the government of Japan. She took up her current position in 2005. She has served as visiting professor at the University of Rome “La Sapienza”, Bocconi University, the University of Ljubljana, the University of Cagliari and the University of Catania.
She has been involved in performance measurement, policy evaluation and evaluation of independent administrative institutions at the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, among others, and in human resource management at the Ministry of Defense and the National Personnel Authority. She has involved in the administrative and managerial reform of numerous local governments. Her works include Municipi d’Oriente (Donzelli, 2008), co-written with Giampaolo Ladu and Lucio Pegoraro.