14 Prefectures Oppose Allowing Foreigners to Vote in Local Elections

Local assemblies in 14 of Japan’s 47 prefectures have adopted statements in opposition to giving permanent foreign residents in Japan the right to vote in local elections since the Democratic Party of Japan took power last year, a Kyodo News tally showed Monday.

Before the launch last September of the new government under Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama who supports granting local suffrage, 31 prefectural assemblies took an affirmative stance, but six of them have turned against it since then.

The results underscored growing opposition to the government’s policy, with local assembly members, including those belonging to the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party, pressing for the adoption of statements of opposition in prefectural assemblies.

The Japanese government is considering formulating a bill that will grant local suffrage to permanent residents in Japan, and DPJ Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa has expressed the hope that such a bill will pass through parliament in the current Diet session.

But reservations remain within the DPJ-led coalition government about the idea, with collation partner People’s New Party President Shizuka Kamei reiterating his opposition last week.

Explaining the reason behind the Chiba prefectural assembly’s opposition, Naotoshi Takubo, secretary general of the LDP’s local branch in Chiba, said the change of government made it more likely than before that a law will be enacted to accept local suffrage.

“The political situation has changed and we now have a sense of danger for the Hatoyama administration,” he said. The Chiba assembly adopted a supporting statement in 1999 when the coalition government between the LDP and the New Komeito party was launched.

An LDP member of the Ishikawa prefectural assembly expressed a similar view, saying the assembly had been supportive because giving permanent residents the right to vote was not “realistic” before.

The Akita prefectural assembly, which adopted its opposing statement after the change of government, said that “a national consensus has not been built at all.”

The Kagawa prefectural assembly says in its statement that foreign residents should be nationalized first to obtain the right to vote.

The issue of local suffrage for permanent foreign residents in Japan came under the spotlight in 1995 after the Supreme Court said the Constitution does not ban giving the right to vote to foreign nationals with permanent resident status in local elections.

Since 1998, the DPJ, the New Komeito party and the Japanese Communist Party have submitted local suffrage bills, but their passage was blocked by the then ruling LDP.

Japan does not allow permanent residents with foreign nationality, such as those of Korean descent, to vote in local elections, let alone in national elections, despite strong calls among such residents for the right to vote on the grounds that they pay taxes as local residents.

Residents of Korean descent comprise most of the permanent foreign residents in Japan.

Japan grants special permanent resident status to people from the Korean Peninsula and Taiwan who have lived in the country since the time of Japan’s colonial rule over the areas, and to their descendants.