October 22, 2017

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Press Conference by Kenji Utsunomiya & Yuzuru Kamoda on Election Deposits Constitutionality Lawsuit

Moderator (David McNeil): Good afternoon everyone. Thank you for turning up for a small but  select group. Hopefully we will have an interesting discussion about what is a very important and very underreported issue. I just reported on this for The Economist and I was very surprised to find that running for office in Japan is extremely costly. Candidates in the Tokyo Metropolitan Election for example deposited 600,000 yen each with the authority which they forfeit if they do get less than 10% of the votes. In general elections, the deposits swells to 3 million yen per candidate in the upper house elections and six million yen per person in proportional pure representation districts by far world’s largest financial bar. Utsunomiya sensei was just telling me that the system was copied from the UK in 1924. But whereas the UK has dropped its deposits and many of the parts developed world have set them to zero, Japan’s is still very high. Utsunomiya sensei is one of many critics who say that setting the cost eventually for elections so high favors the big political parties, the unions, industrial lobbies helps insure smaller parties, smaller political parties and new entrants are shut out of power. Our two speakers are going to discuss this very important issue. Utsunomiya Kenji, Kenji Utsunomiya is an attorney of law. He is president, sorry, ex-president of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations. He has twice run for Tokyo Governor. (Would you show….. minding him) but I interviewed him about three years ago and he didn’t remember, so he knows, at first hand, the cost for running for an election. Yuzuru Kamoda is an attorney of law. He is with the Saitama Sogo Law Office. They are in the middle of a lawsuit in the Tokyo District Court suing for a change to this law and hopefully its abolition. The fifth hearing I believe is in September. September. That’s right. So do give them your best attention. Utsunomiya sensei is going to talk first. And our translator today is a very brilliant Mary Joyce. Thank you.

Kenji Utsunomiya: Good afternoon, and first I would like to make some introductory remarks.

We are currently carrying out a lawsuit claiming that the election deposits in place in Japan are unconstitutional. My name is Utsunomiya and I am the leader of this legal group, legal team.

The plaintiff in our current lawsuit is an individual, a man who is now 57 years old who attempted to stand for election in the 47th House of Representatives single seat constituency election of December 14th, 2014. However at that time, he was unable to prepare the deposit required of 3 million yen and for this reason his notification of candidacy was not accepted and he was not able to stand in the election.

And the purpose of this lawsuit is to question the constitutionality of the fact that even if someone is willing to wishing to stand in an election in a national election, if in as in the case of plaintiff they are not able to have financial means to stand then it is preventing them from standing in the election. So the fact that this amount of money is required of candidates is against the constitution.

The right to stand for election or the right to candidacy is an important aspect which is also enshrined within the Constitution of Japan. In paragraph one of Article 15 states that people have inalienable right to choose their public officials so this is showing the constitutional aspects of the freedom of standing for candidacy.

This has been acknowledged in the verdict of the grand bench which was on the fourth of December 1968.

And further in regards to the constitution in the proviso of Article 44 of the Japanese Constitution. It states that the qualifications of members of both houses and their electors shall be fixed by law. However, there shall be no discrimination because of property or income.

Therefore, we are carrying out this lawsuit in order to bring attention or bring to light the fact that the election deposit in Japan is extremely high in comparison with other countries around the world. And furthermore that anybody regardless of their property or income or the size of this should have the right to take the challenge of standing in a national election. Therefore through this lawsuit we are calling either for the complete abolition or for significant reduction of the election deposit system.

The preamble of the Japanese Constitution states that we the Japanese people acting through our duly elected representatives in the National Diet. So putting forward this aspect of representative parliamentary democracy as a system listed in the Constitution.

And under the representative parliament democracy, it is thought that the diverse voices of various people of the country should be reflected in the politics, however, by having restrictions on standing for candidacy as a result of the election deposit system, this means that it becomes more difficult for such diverse voices to be represented within the parliament. This also damages that system or really makes the system, well, empty in a way.

Therefore the abolishment or significant reduction of the currently required extremely high election deposits would be a way to also further develop a healthy parliamentary democracy here in Japan.

In Japan issues of poverty and also disparity in terms of economic capacity are growing and therefore, this means that such as the case of the plaintiff in this case are those people who are not able to have the financial means to prepare the high election deposit means that there are also people who are not to stand as candidates in the election.

According to the statistics announced on June 27th of this year in regards to the 2015 relative poverty rate of Japan are these statistics, these are distributed by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. This is at the rate of 15.6 % point of rate of population meaning that one in six of the people in Japan are now in what is seen as poverty.

Further in regards to single parent families, their poverty rate is seen to be at 50.8 % meaning that one in two of such households is now under the poverty line.

And the relative poverty rate or the way that it is calculated is at it is seen as people whose  equivalent disposable income is at less than one half of the national median. Therefore if we look at the 2015 figures where the equivalent disposable income median was at 2.44 million yen. This means that people whose disposable income was at 1.22 million yen (one point two two million yen) are those who are seen at under the poverty line.

In the background of this expanding poverty and economic disparity in Japan is issues related to the fragile social welfare system and also the situation of non permanent workers or those known as working poor and the expansion or the increase in such people in Japan.

In regards to the number of so-called non permanent workers or temporary workers in Japan, it has surpassed twenty million people throughout the country and this is around 40 % of the total workers in Japan. As this number is continuing to increase as well in the past nine years running. The number of low income workers whose annual income or annual salary is less than two million yen has been over ten million people each year for these nine years.

And the number of the households that have zero savings at all is said to be more than 30.9 %.

And within these circumstances, the number of people who are having difficulties in their everyday life is also increasing. The number of households who have had started to have social welfare is up to 1.63 million households. The number of individual users of this system is 2.13 million people.

And for those people in situations of poverty if they want to stand for the election, the idea of having to raise election deposit, which is more than their annual income, is, of course, extremely difficult.

Therefore, as a result of the extremely high election deposit, Japan is…the system in Japan is removing the freedom to stand in election for many people in such circumstances.

The current election deposit system in Japan was introduced at the time of the so-called regular election law or the House of Representatives election revision law of 1925.

Another law, which was passed at the same time, was actually the Public Order and Police Law generally known as the Peace Preservation Law, which is the law which has become very well known for being responsible or being utilized for various human rights abuses during this pre war period.

And until now the explanation which has been given for the introduction of this election deposit system has been to prevent the candidacy of publicity seeking candidates or frivolous or minor candidates in the elections in order to avoid confusion or disruption during the election and in order to ensure that they are implemented in a sincere way.

However by considering the fact that deposit required at that time was 2000 yen which was actually around the double the amount the first year income of the public official meaning extremely high at the time. The actual reason for the introduction of this system was in order to suppress standing for the candidacy or the progression into the parliament of so-called  proletarian parties. 

This system of extremely high election deposit remained in place even after the war is still the current situation today.

And if the purpose is or the question is about whether to exclude so-called publicity seeking or frivolous candidates from standing if we were indeed to look at the sovereignty of the people this should be something to be made by the decision of the voters.

In 2016 on May 26th and 27th, Iseshima G7 Summit was held here in Japan. If we look at the G7 member countries of the United States, Germany, France and Italy, all of these countries actually have zero election deposits.

Or the cases of the United Kingdom has an election deposit of around  or the equivalent of 70,000 yen and Canada around 80,000 yen.  

However, if we compare this to Japan for the single state constituencies of both of House of Representatives and Councillors. It is three million yen. And For proportional seats, it is six million yen. So extremely high in comparison to these other countries.

Furthermore we have not heard any reports of confusion within elections as a results of abolishing the deposit system or making the required deposit zero in the case of the United States, Germany, France and Italy.

Furthermore, if we look at the PARLINE database of Inter Parliamentary Union or the IPU it is said that 22 of the OECD member countries do not have an election deposit system.

There are 13 countries including Japan which do have an election deposit system, however looking at the amount of this deposit we can say that even within these 13 countries the Japanese required amount is extremely high.

As a result of this extremely high election deposit system, this is meaning or elections are to the advantage of existing political parties or already existing politicians. It is also one of the reasons which is leading to such  a high number of second generation politicians in Japan.

It is said that actually more than 30% of the parliament members in Japan today are actually such a second, or second generation politicians.

This is leading to a situation where politics or being a politician is becoming , well, a family business.

As a result of this election deposit system, this is meaning that not only there is such a high number of second generation politicians, but also it is meaning that the freedom to stand as a candidate for those people of low income is being deprived in Japan. This means that it is much more difficult for the voices of diverse representation of the population to be reflected within the Diet, and it is also leading to a damaging effect of quality of politics and of the system of parliamentary democracy in Japan itself.

Utsunomiya: Thank you very much.

McNeil: Kamoda-san. Can I ask you to keep it brief if possible for questions? Thank you.

Yuzuru Kamoda :

Good afternoon. My name is Yuzuru Kamoda. I’m a Secretary General of the lawsuit regarding the election deposit system and an attorney at law at Saitama Sogo Law Office.

The amount of election deposits required in Japan differs according to the forum or the type of election and it has also been increasing with the years as well.

And within the materials distributed today if you turn the page, you can see a list of how this has increased over the years.

At the time of the system being introduced in 1925, it was 2000 yen.

And we can see that 50 years later in 1975, this had increased to one million yen.

And later than that in 1992, this was when the amount was raised to three million yen, and this is as it stands today.

And the amount also varies according to the type of election itself as follows.

In national elections, for the proportional seats it is six million yen.

And three million yen for prefectural governor positions.

And the amount required for the election deposit decreases accordingly to the also called the size of election itself as you can see in the list here going down to the last listed for local assemblies in towns and villages where there isis no deposit required.

I would like to add just two points to Mr. Utsunomiya has mentioned in regards to the purpose of this lawsuit.

And the first point I would like to raise is actually in 2011 the Constitutional Court of Republic of Korea, there was actually a verdict that the election deposits of 20 million won was actually unconstitutional.

And within the verdict of the Korean constitutional court, it states that the deposit requirement 20 million won is excessive and would ultimately prevent candidates who represent poor and younger generations from taking office in the national assembly meaning that it violates the right of potential candidates to hold public office and both as freedom of choice.

And we believe that the contents of this verdict from the Korean constitutional court can also be applied or is also valid or relevant to the current Japanese election system.

The second point is that as an alternative to the election deposit system, there is also the potential system of petitions or signatures.

If we examine the election systems of other countries outside of Japan we can see examples where there is no election deposit required. However, a certain number of signatures must be gathered in order to stand for a office.

For example, in the cases of Germany, Denmark, and Hungary, they have systems where there is no election deposit do not require election system, however, a certain number of petition or signatures must be submitted by the potential candidates.  

We believe that such alternative measures should be put into place in Japan also for those people who do not have the economic means or property means for example to raise the currently required election deposits.

Thank you.

Moderator: Thank you. Any more questions? If you have a question please put up your hand. The gentleman at the back?

Thank you. Rio from Waseda University. The question goes from the election deposits. Where do the money usually come from? Are they coming from individuals, or from interest groups or lobbyist groups? Thank you.

How that is raised depends quite a lot according to the political party. If I use for example my case when I run twice in the gubernatorial elections here in Tokyo, the three million yen, which was needed to stand in each of those elections was raised largely from individual donations.

Particularly in the case of large political parties and particularly those who are forming the government of course we do not know the individual details within the party themselves, but it could be considered that rather than individual donations, but the party themselves are putting forward or providing the funds for the election deposits in many of these cases as well.

There is also a system in Japan for support for political parties from the state as well, which according to the number of seats held in the Diet by that party there is also financial support provided to the political parties as well.

There is also of course various donations made by groups or organizations and citizens and so on to political parties as well.

So if we look for example at one of the largest economic groups in Japan, Keidanren, there are also gathering various funds for political donations and around 80 % of their funds are donated to the Liberal Democratic Party.

If we were to consider for example a political party wanting to gain or become the government as well. When we consider that there are 475 seats in the House of Representatives, well in order to gain the majority of that number of seats you can also see that it requires an enormous amount of election deposits to put forward in order to form a government.

So we can see that the system of election deposits but also other various aspects of Japan’s current political system means that unless the party is able to raise significant funds in this way it is not able for them to take a position of power within the parliament also.

And one of the major challenges struggles faced by small parties in Japan is  and how to raise this election deposit in order to stand for candidacy.

Moderator: The criticism that I received when I wrote my piece for The Economist was that other systems have different ways of making you pay. The American system being very good example in OK it’s free to run in an election, but there are enormous costs, other costs running in the elections, would two professors to answer those two?

In my personal experience, for example, standing in the gubernatorial elections in Tokyo twice of course I also experienced that there are various other funds which are required to run an election campaign other than the election deposits. And it was also individual deposits, sorry, donations from people which I used for the campaign at that time as well. However, the fact that this deposit is required to even stand as a candidate in the first place and without having the financial means to raise this deposit in the first place means that it is also depriving people of the right to stand as a candidate in election itself. The right to even well go to this very first starting line in the election. Even before getting into the issue of the funds for the election campaign itself, so particularly for those people who are not or do not have great economic means so the fact that they are prevented from even standing as a candidate is a matter of freedom or rights before even considering the cost of the election campaign itself.

I would like to speak of two examples from direct or personal experience in relation to this also or close examples from recent years. If we consider the existence of the green party, which many countries for example throughout Europe has significant number of seats within various national parliaments. Or in some countries cases even is forming part of the government. There is also a green party which was founded in Japan in 2013 at the time of the House of Councillor’s election. They aimed or they stood ten candidates in for their proportional seats at the time of the election. However when we consider that for each candidate six million yen is required. Therefore, in order to have ten candidates stand the required number to stand for proportional seats. This meant that they were required to raise sixty million yen in order to stand in this House of Councillors election. They were able to raise the deposits. Therefore did stand candidates.

However as they did not achieve the required number of seats to have this deposit return to them after the election. This meant that this sixty million yen was actually confiscated after the election and not returned to them, which has meant that they were not in a position to stand candidates in the House of Representatives election, which call it is. Also the election of last year as well. So the fact that they have huge amount of this election deposit required at the time of 2013 election has meant that the green party in Japan has not able to put forward any candidates in subsequent elections. The second example is from the Tokyo gubernatorial election of last year, I myself did not stand at that time.

However one particular young person who was working as a non permanent worker or temporary worker stood as a candidate in the Tokyo gubernatorial election. He was able to raise the election deposit. However similarly was not also able to achieve the required number of votes or proportion of votes for this to be to returned to him. He actually had relied quite significantly on loans for raising his election deposits and as a result he is now working or in a very difficult position of trying to raise enough money to return these loans after having stood in an election. He was standing in an election in order to make his political stance known and to make an appeal within politics. However he is now in a very difficult circumstances in regards to his or everyday life situation now as well.

This particular individual is showing great interest in our lawsuit he regularly comes to observe when we are in session and so on and he has also spoken about his personal experiences at our related gatherings.

Kamoda: So I would like to respond to Mr. McNeil’s question in regards to for example of the United States where there is no election deposits required however various other funds and so on are required. I think this may have also been in relation to the fact that for those candidates standing in an election in Japan, the costs required for example for printing flyers, posters, newspaper advertisements and so on. There is a system in place where the state provides funds for some of political advertisements rather than individuals. So I think my understanding was that the question was probably in relation to this system of election campaign and funds.  

In Japan for the four years between 1948 and 1952 as part of the system of distribution of public funds there were the system in place where election deposit was set at 30,000 yen, but there was also 20,000 sorry, 20,000 yen required for cost related to your election campaign, which was also required during that period.

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