Local representative government in some towns and villages is foundering because of depopulation. General meetings of local citizens might replace it.
Tokyo (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Aging rural communities could replace elected assemblies with direct democracy in response to a chronic lack of candidates caused by depopulation.
Internal Affairs Minister Sanae Takaichi yesterday said that depopulated towns and villages may choose to abolish conventional assemblies and instead decide municipal affairs at general meetings of all eligible local constituents.
“We are willing to provide appropriate advice if we are consulted (by town or village officials),” Takaichi told a news conference.
The minister's remarks came after a recent decision by Okawa, a village in Kochi Prefecture with a population of just over 400, to consider setting up such a general meeting based on the Local Autonomy Law.
In an election for the six-seat village assembly in 2015, all serving members were re-elected uncontested as no other candidates stood against them.
According to the Internal Affairs Ministry, a general meeting of all residents was once set up in Utsuki, a village now part of Hachijo town on a southern Tokyo island during the 1950s, but this no longer happens anywhere in the country.
Internal Affairs Ministry officials believe that Okawa may not be an isolated case. Another 27 municipalities have a population of less than a thousand people.
In unified local elections in 2015, assembly members were elected uncontested in 89 towns and villages, or 23.9 per cent of the 373 towns and villages whose assemblies were up for re-election that year.
The aging of Japan’s population is a worrying trend. About 27.3 per cent of its population is over 65, an absolute record for the country since statistics have been collected.
According to the 2015 census, some 34.6 million people are over 65, 750,000 (0.6 per cent) more than the previous year. The number of people over 80 people is also rising, 10.45 million or 8.2 per cent of the population.
Meanwhile, the birth rate continues to drop. Recent figures indicate that the number of children under 15 stands at 15.71 million, or 12.4 per cent of the total population, down 170,000 over the previous year, the worst since 1950. Overall, there are 8.05 million boys and 7.67 million girls.
If the trend continues, more than 890 rural communities could disappear by 2040.