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Political Participation by the People; “Direct Election of the Prime Minister Possible under the Present Constitution”
By Shigefumi Matsuzawa

It has been quite a while since deterioration of Japan’s politics began to be clamored. Every summer, power struggles occur in the Diet and the prime minister is changed just like an annual event.

Last year saw an unprecedented deplorable situation that the Prime Minister, who had expressed his intention of resignation, stayed on his premier position. Indifferent to people’s opinions and wishes, the government cannot promote any important policies. Under such conditions, we cannot advance restoration work for the devastated areas in Tohoku. Also, people’s daily lives become even more difficult, and the national interests cannot be protected in international politics.

In view of all these, it is quite natural that the voice to “make the people with sovereignty select the nation’s top leader” becomes louder. Many of the prime ministers selected by the Diet members are far from those leaders desired by the people. The prime minister directly selected by the people shall show strong leadership gaining their confidence, realize various policies, and serve the specified term. This process will lead to nurturing of people’s willingness to participate in national politics, as well as their sense of responsibility. We can say that the system to enable the people to directly select a prime minister based on policy debate is more democratic and valid than the procedure to select through the intraparty factional numbers game.

Whenever disillusionment with politics became extremely strong, there arose a claim for public’s direct election of the prime minister. Mr. Yasuhiro Nakasone and Mr. Junichiro Koizumi, former Prime Ministers, were both advocates of the public election system for the prime minister. However, such a claim always met with the barrier of the constitutional amendment, and the direct election system has never been realized.

The Article 67 of the Constitution specifies that “The Prime Minister shall be designated from among the members of the Diet by a resolution of the Diet”, and thus guarantees Japan’s political system of parliamentary government. It is considered that, as far as this Article exists, realization of public election of the prime minister is impossible.

Yet, I wonder if it is truly impossible to realize a virtual direct election of the prime minister without revising the Article. Here, I would like to propose a feasible method.

First, we decide the contenders for the prime minister from among the Diet members, and present them to the voters. The contenders are required to collect a given number of recommenders (50 persons, for example) from the Diet members to prevent candidacy by too many persons. Then, these contenders carry out election campaign based on policy debate, and the voters cast their ballot for the person they consider the most appropriate for the prime minister. This election to decide the prime minister shall be conducted immediately after the resignation of the cabinet or dissolution of the House of Representatives for a new election.

Among the contenders, the person who has won more than a plurality in the election shall be the candidate for the prime minister. Or, if no one has obtained a majority of votes, we can think of holding another election for the top two contenders in order to provide greater confidence to the elected one. In any way, the person elected shall become the sole candidate with public endorsement in the Diet. With the highest respect for the selection by the people, the Diet shall approve and the Emperor would appoint this candidate as the prime minister.

Professor Yoshiaki Kobayashi of Keio University proposed the public election of the prime minister, too. If the people go through the above formalities, they can virtually select a prime minister. And thus we can realize a system of the direct premier election by contriving operational interpretation without revising the provisions of the Constitution, such as the authority of the Emperor and the parliamentary government.

Of course, there are advantages and disadvantages in both systems of the direct election of the prime minister by the public and the parliamentary government. In the direct election, in particular, it is concerned that a “talent” contender with high name recognition, but without deep insight, might be selected for the prime minister. However, we can prevent such an event by limiting qualification for contenders to the Diet members and institutionalizing a policy debate-based election as proposed above.

Since its establishment, the present Constitution has been broadly interpreted without revision to cope with the actual state of various issues. As the political situation does not allow constitutional amendments, we have no other way but to resort to extended interpretation of the Constitution.

National politics is in the midst of great confusion. If we do not establish political leadership, advance policies, nor promote reforms to encourage people’s political participation, this country will just continue to decline. The system of direct election of the prime minister practically transfers the power for selecting a top leader of the country to the people with sovereignty. We should regenerate Japan’s politics by introducing this system of direct election of the prime minister.

Shigefumi Matsuzawa

Personal Record of Shigefumi Matsuzawa

Date of Birth: April 2, 1958
Place of Birth: Kawasaki City, Kanagawa Prefecture


March 1982 Graduated from Keio University, the Department of Political Science, Faculty of Law
March 1987 Graduated from the Matsushita Institute of Government and Management

■Professional Career

1984~1985 Worked as a staff member of a Lower House Representative, the United States
April 1987 Elected to the Kanagawa Prefectural Assembly
July 1993 Elected to the House of Representatives from the Kanagawa 2nd District
April 2003 Inaugurated as Governor of Kanagawa Prefecture
April 2008 Assumed the post of guest professor at Graduate School of Governance Studies, Meiji University
July2011 Assumed the post of guest professor at Tukuba University

Official webSite:http://www.matsuzawa.com