Sometimes an Electoral System is Just an Electoral System: What SNTV Does and Doesn't Explain about Japanese Politics
January 27, 1999 / 6.30 P.M.
Robert Weiner, University of California, Berkeley
Until 1996, Japan was one of only a tiny number of polities to use a single non-transferable vote (SNTV) in multi-member districts to elect its main legislative chamber. SNTV’s exceptional nature often consigns it to a footnote in comparative treatments of electoral systems, but at the same time gains it great attention within studies on Japan. Much of this attention is well-deserved. Japan’s electoral system, like any democracy’s, has the potential to exert considerable influence on ist politics, and study of the system has contributed both to understanding of Japan and to comparative research. Lately, though, SNTV seems to have become Japanese political analysis’ cure-all, invoked to explain everything from party organization to defense policy to labor market distortions. Electoral system arguments may be appealing for their straightforwardness and for their promise of a culture-free entree into analysis of Japan, but the blanket application of SNTV-centered explanations has inevitably stretched them too far. Most immediately, the yield has been a collection of individual claims that prove empirically untenable on closer examination. But the presentation will also examine how, more importantly, these claims taken together reflect a broader set of underlying theoretical problems with SNTV-centered approaches.
Robert WEINER is a Ph.D. candidate in political science at the University of California at Berkeley, and currently a visiting researcher in the Law Department of Keiō University.