House of Councillors

The House of Councillors (参議院, Sangiin) is the upper house of the National Diet of Japan. The House of Representatives is the lower house. The House of Councillors is the successor to the pre-war House of Peers. If the two houses disagree on matters of the budget, treaties, or the nomination of the prime minister, the House of Representatives can insist on its decision. In other decisions, the House of Representatives can override a vote of the House of Councillors only by a two-thirds majority of members present.

House of Councillors

参議院

Sangiin
210th Session of the National Diet
Type
Type
Leadership
President
Hidehisa Otsuji, LDP (caucus: independent)
since 3 August 2022
Vice President
Hiroyuki Nagahama, CDP (caucus: independent)
since 3 August 2022
Structure
Seats248
Political groups
Government (145)
  •   LDP & affiliated independents (118)
  •   Kōmeitō (27)

Opposition (103)

Committees17 committees
Length of term
6 years
SalaryPresident: ¥2,170,000/m
Vice President: ¥1,584,000/m
Members: ¥1,294,000/m
Elections
Parallel voting:
Single non-transferable vote (148 seats)
Party-list proportional representation (100 seats)
Staggered elections
First election
20 April 1947
Last election
10 July 2022
Next election
July 2025
Meeting place
Chamber of the House of Councillors
Website
www.sangiin.go.jp

The House of Councillors has 248 members who each serve six-year terms, two years longer than those of the House of Representatives. Councillors must be at least 30 years old, compared with 25 years old in the House of Representatives. The House of Councillors cannot be dissolved, and terms are staggered so that only half of its membership is up for election every three years. Of the 121 members subject to election each time, 73 are elected from 45 districts by single non-transferable vote (SNTV) and 48 are elected from a nationwide list by proportional representation (PR) with open lists.[1]

Roles and responsibilities

The power of House of Councillors is very similar to the Canadian Senate or the Irish Seanad.[2] In central issues, there is a "supremacy of the House of Representatives" (ja:衆議院の優越, Shūgiin no yūetsu): In the election of the prime minister, in the ratification of international treaties and on passing the budget, a decision by the House of Representatives always overrides House of Councillors dissent. And only the lower house can pass votes of no-confidence against the cabinet. All other legislation requires either the approval by majorities in both houses, an agreement in the conference committee of both houses or an additional override vote by two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives.[3][4] (No single party has ever won a two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives under the current constitution, although the LDP came close several times, as did the DPJ in 2009.) In other words: Controlling a majority in the House of Councillors and one third of the House of Representatives is enough for a united opposition to be able to block the passage of legislation. For certain important administrative nominations by the cabinet, the approval of both houses is required absolutely (although the laws containing this requirement could be changed by two-thirds lower house override as a "nuclear option"); and constitutional amendment proposals need two-thirds majorities in both the houses of the Diet to be submitted to the people in a national referendum.[2]

One additional constitutional role of the House of Councillors is to serve as functioning fully elected emergency legislature on its own during lower house election campaigns: While the House of Representatives is dissolved, the National Diet can't be convened, and therefore no law can be passed in regular procedure; but in urgent cases requiring parliamentary action (e.g. election management, provisional budgets, disaster response), an emergency session (緊急集会, kinkyū shūkai) of the House of Councillors can still be invoked to take provisional decisions for the whole Diet. Such decisions will become invalid unless confirmed by the House of Representatives as soon as the whole Diet convenes again.

The basic stipulations on the role of the House of Councillors are subject of chapter IV of the constitution.[5] Laws and rules containing more detailed provisions on parliamentary procedures and the relations between the two houses include the National Diet Law (国会法, Kokkai-hō),[6] the conference committee regulations (両院協議会規程, ryōin-kyōgikai kitei),[7] and the rules of each house (衆議院/参議院規則, Shūgiin/Sangiin kisoku).[8]

Constitutional practice

In practice, governments often tried to ensure legislative majorities, either by forming coalition governments with safe legislative majorities in the first place or by negotiating with part of the opposition, or avoided to submit bills with no prospects of passage,[9] so the House of Councillors rarely voted against the decisions reached by the lower house for much of postwar history: As the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), founded in 1955, often held majorities in both houses or was sufficiently close to control both houses together with independents and micro-parties for a long period, inter-chamber disagreement was rare during most of the 1955 System.

After the opposition victory in the 1989 election, the relative importance of the House of Councillors initially increased, as the LDP continued to govern alone and did not hold a two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives. Crucial legislation had to be negotiated with parts of the opposition. The most prominent example was the so-called "PKO Diet" (ja:PKO国会, PKO Kokkai) of 1992 when the LDP negotiated and passed the peace-keeping operations bill with centre-left/right-of-JSP opposition parties (DSP and Kōmeitō) against fierce opposition from JSP and JCP; the PKO law became the base for the Self-Defense Forces' first (ground) deployment abroad as part of the UN mission in Cambodia. After the 1993 House of Representatives election, with the exception of a brief minority government in 1994, coalition governments or the confidence and supply arrangement during the restored LDP single-party government ensured legislative government majorities until the opposition victory in the 1998 House of Councillors election which led to the formation of another coalition government by 1999.

The legislative two-thirds override power of the House of Representatives was never used between 1950s and 2008 when the LDP-Kōmeitō coalition government had lost the House of Councillors majority in the 2007 election, but did control a two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives since 2005. After that, it has been used somewhat more frequently (see ja:衆議院の再議決, Shūgin no saikaketsu, ~"Override decisions by the House of Representatives" for a list). If a government controls a two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives and is willing to use it, the House of Councillors can only delay a bill, but not prevent passage.

Opposition control of the House of Councillors is often summarized by the term nejire Kokkai (ja:ねじれ国会, "twisted" or "skewed" Diet). Setting aside the immediate postwar years, when many governments were in the minority in the upper house, but the strongest force, the centrist Ryokufūkai, was not in all-out opposition to either centre-left or centre-right governments and willing to cooperate, the Diet was "twisted" from 1989 to 1993, 1998–1999, 2007–2009, and most recently 2010–2013.

"Gridlock" and reform proposals

In recent years, many constitutional revision advocates call for reforming the role of the House of Councillors ("carbon copy" of the House of Representatives or "recalcitrant naysayer") or abolishing it altogether to "prevent political paralysis", after the recently more frequent twisted Diets have seen an increase in inter-chamber friction/"political nightmare"s.[10][11] Examples of high-stakes, internationally noted conflicts in recent twisted Diets:

  • In 2008, two nominees for BoJ governor by the Fukuda Cabinet (Toshirō Mutō, Kōji Tanami) were rejected by the DPJ-led opposition in the House of Councillors, and the SDF naval support mission for NATO/OEF in the Indian Ocean had to be interrupted for one month while the extension of the anti-terrorism law was delayed by the extended legislative proceedings necessary to override the House of Councillors rejection.
  • In 2011, the Kan Cabinet struggled to pass a renewable energy bill and a bond ceiling increase (unlike the budget itself subject to the normal legislative procedure) against the LDP-led opposition majority in the House of Councillors until it negotiated a deal with the LDP in exchange for child allowance reform and the cabinet's resignation which Kan had already announced, but conditioned on the passage of the bills.[12][13]

Membership and elections

Article 102 of the Japanese Constitution provided that half of the councillors elected in the first House of Councillors election in 1947 would be up for re-election three years later in order to introduce staggered six-year terms.

The House initially had 250 seats. Two seats were added to the House in 1970 after the agreement on the repatriation of Okinawa, increasing the House to a total of 252.[14] Legislation aimed at addressing malapportionment that favoured less-populated prefectures was introduced in 2000; this resulted in ten seats being removed (five each at the 2001 and 2004 elections), bringing the total number of seats to 242.[14] Further reforms to address malapportionment took effect in 2007 and 2016, but did not change the total number of members in the house.[14]

From 1947 to 1983, the House had 100 seats allocated to a national block (全国区, zenkoku-ku), of which fifty seats were allocated in each election.[14] It was originally intended to give nationally prominent figures a route to the House without going through local electioneering processes. Some national political figures, such as feminists Shidzue Katō and Fusae Ichikawa and former Imperial Army general Kazushige Ugaki, were elected through the block, along with a number of celebrities such as comedian Yukio Aoshima (later Governor of Tokyo), journalist Hideo Den and actress Yūko Mochizuki. Shintaro Ishihara won a record 3 million votes in the national block in the 1968 election. The national block was last seen in the 1980 election and was replaced with a nationwide proportional representation block in the 1983 election.[14] The national proportional representation block was reduced to 96 members in the 2000 reforms.[14]

Current composition

Composition of the House of Councillors of Japan (as of 23 December 2022)[15]
Caucus (English name)[16]
(domestic name)
Parties Members
Term Total
29 July 2019 –
28 July 2025
(elected by
2019 election)
26 July 2022 –
25 July 2028
(elected by
2022 election)
PR SNTV/FPTP Subtotal PR SNTV/FPTP Subtotal
Government 264369 245276 145
Liberal Democratic Party and Voice of The People
Jiyūminshutō / Kokumin no Koe
LDP, Independent 193655 184563 118
Komeito
Kōmeitō
Kōmeitō 7714 6713 27
Opposition 232649 252045 94
The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and Social Democratic Party
Rikken-minshutō / Shakai-minshutō
CDP, SDP 81422 81018 40
Nippon Ishin(Japan Innovation Party)
Nippon Ishin no Kai
Ishin 549 8412 21
Democratic Party For the People and The Shin-Ryokufukai
Kokumin-minshutō / Shin-Ryokufūkai
DPFP, Independents 437 336 13
Japanese Communist Party
Nihon Kyōsantō
JCP 437 314 11
REIWA SHINSENGUMI
Reiwa Shinsengumi
Reiwa Shinsengumi 202 213 5
NHK Party
NHK tō
NHK Party, Independent 101 101 2
Okinawa Whirlwind
Okinawa no Kaze
Okinawa Socialist Mass Party 011 011 2
Independents and Vacant 156 123 9
Independents
Members not affiliated with any parliamentary caucus
President: Hidehisa Otsuji (LDP)
Vice President: Hiroyuki Nagahama (CDP)
Independents
156 123 9
VacantN/A 000 000 0
Total 5074124 5074124 248

For a list of individual members, see the List of members of the Diet of Japan#House of Councillors.

List of House of Councillors regular elections

20th century

  • 1947 Japanese House of Councillors election
  • 1950 Japanese House of Councillors election
  • 1953 Japanese House of Councillors election
  • 1956 Japanese House of Councillors election
  • 1959 Japanese House of Councillors election
  • 1962 Japanese House of Councillors election
  • 1965 Japanese House of Councillors election
  • 1968 Japanese House of Councillors election
  • 1971 Japanese House of Councillors election
  • 1974 Japanese House of Councillors election
  • 1977 Japanese House of Councillors election
  • 1980 Japanese House of Councillors election
  • 1983 Japanese House of Councillors election
  • 1986 Japanese House of Councillors election
  • 1989 Japanese House of Councillors election
  • 1992 Japanese House of Councillors election
  • 1995 Japanese House of Councillors election
  • 1998 Japanese House of Councillors election

21st century

See also

  • List of presidents of the House of Councillors (Japan)
  • List of districts of the House of Councillors of Japan

Notes

    •   Sanseitō (1)
    •   Independent (8)

References

Specific
  1. Hayes 2009, p. 50
  2. Fahey, Rob (18 July 2019). "Japan Explained: The House of Councilors - Tokyo Review". Archived from the original on 16 April 2021. Retrieved 9 April 2021.
  3. House of Representatives: Diet functions: Diagram of (the) Legislative Procedure Archived 2021-09-12 at the Wayback Machine
  4. Thies M.F., Yanai Y. (2013) Governance with a Twist: How Bicameralism Affects Japanese Lawmaking. In: Pekkanen R., Reed S.R., Scheiner E. (eds) Japan Decides 2012. Palgrave Macmillan, London.
  5. Text (in unreformed script) Archived 2021-10-17 at the Wayback Machine and English translation Archived 2021-03-08 at the Wayback Machine, Wikisource
  6. Text Archived 2021-06-28 at the Wayback Machine and English translation Archived 2021-10-16 at the Wayback Machine, House of Councillors
  7. Text Archived 2021-05-12 at the Wayback Machine, House of Councillors
  8. HC rules: Text Archived 2021-11-09 at the Wayback Machine and English translation Archived 2021-11-20 at the Wayback Machine, House of Councillors; HR rules: Text Archived 2021-09-23 at the Wayback Machine, House of Representatives.
  9. Thies M.F., Yanai Y. (2014): Bicameralism vs. Parliamentarism: Lessons from Japan’s Twisted Diet, Journal of Electoral Studies 30 (2), 60-74. (J-STAGE Archived 2021-09-13 at the Wayback Machine)
  10. Reiko, Oyama (30 June 2015). "The Rightful Role of the House of Councillors". nippon.com (Nippon Foundation). Archived from the original on 18 October 2021. Retrieved 9 April 2021.
  11. Takenaka Harukata, July 20, 2011: Why Japanese Politics Is at a Standstill Archived 2021-09-12 at the Wayback Machine, nippon.com (Nippon Foundation), retrieved September 12, 2021.
  12. Risa Maeda, Shinichi Saoshiro, Reuters, July 5, 2011: Japan opposition sets conditions for energy bill Archived 2021-09-12 at the Wayback Machine, retrieved September 12, 2021.
  13. Hiroko Tabuchi, The New York Times, August 23, 2011: Japan’s Prime Minister Likely to Resign, Minister Says Archived 2021-09-12 at the Wayback Machine, retrieved September 12, 2021.
  14. 参議院議員選挙制度の変遷 [Changes to the electoral system of the House of Councillors] (in Japanese). Archived from the original on 27 July 2018. Retrieved 12 December 2016.
  15. "会派名及び会派別所属議員数". 参議院 House of Councillors, The National Diet of Japan. 2022-12-23. Retrieved 2022-12-23.
  16. "Strength of the Political Groups in the House of Councillors". House of Councillors. Retrieved 2022-12-23.
Bibliography
  • Hayes, L. D., 2009. Introduction to Japanese Politics. 5th ed. New York: M.E. Sharpe. ISBN 978-0-7656-2279-2
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