Assemblies say ‘no’ to foreign suffrage

Fourteen prefectural assemblies have adopted statements opposing legislation that would give permanent foreign residents in Japan the right to vote in local elections, The Asahi Shimbun has learned.

The statements were adopted from October to December after the Democratic Party of Japan, which favors foreign suffrage, took power from the conservative Liberal Democratic Party.

Of the 14 assemblies, seven reversed their stances on the issue. One assembly member even acknowledged that the previous show of support for granting voting rights to foreign residents was simply a token gesture.

In each case, LDP assembly members led the drive to pass the statements, which all said, “The awarding of voting rights to foreigners–who are not Japanese nationals–is problematic from the standpoint of the Constitution.”

The moves appear to be a concerted attempt by the LDP to differentiate itself from the DPJ ahead of the Upper House election in the summer.

LDP President Sadakazu Tanigaki has adopted the slogan of “upholding conservative values” to rebuild the party following its humiliating defeat in the Aug. 30 Lower House election.

Ahead of that election, the DPJ included the early realization of local voting rights for permanent foreign residents in its list of key policies. In December, DPJ Secretary-General Ichiro Ozawa said he believed that foreign suffrage “will likely become reality during the regular Diet session.”

The DPJ has faced protests and rallies from right-wing groups who say that granting voting rights to foreign nationals could allow them to take over the country.

According to the Justice Ministry, 910,000 permanent foreign residents live in Japan.

Akira Fukumura, secretary-general of the LDP Ishikawa prefectural chapter and a prefectural assembly member, said the assembly’s about-face in its stance on foreign suffrage reflects the “new circumstances brought about by the change in government.”

“In the past, we showed support because the legislation was unlikely to happen” under the LDP rule, Fukumura said. “We figured that it was just good policy to preserve the honor of those who wanted to show support.”

Seo Won Cheol, secretary-general of a task force on foreign suffrage at the pro-Seoul Korean Residents Union in Japan (Mindan), said the recent developments are “unfortunate, but in a way, show the true colors” of those who purportedly supported the drive.

Seo said the deaths in 2000 of former Prime Ministers Noboru Takeshita and Keizo Obuchi, both of whom supported foreign voting rights, and a rise in nationalism within the LDP turned the tide against granting suffrage.

According to the National Association of Chairpersons of Prefectural Assemblies, 30 of Japan’s 47 prefectural assemblies had adopted statements supporting voting rights for foreign nationals by 2000.

The Shimane prefectural assembly adopted its statement of support in 1995.

Shimane was the home turf of Takeshita, who also headed a Japan-South Korea parliamentarians league.

However, the assembly reversed its stance in December.

“In upholding conservative values, this is one thing we cannot give in to,” said Hidekazu Ozawa, an LDP Shimane prefectural assembly member.

He added that many people even outside the LDP are concerned that granting suffrage to foreigners could have a large impact on local elections, in which the margin of victory is considerably thin.

An official at the LDP’s headquarters in Tokyo said it has sent statements adopted by the assemblies to any prefectural chapter that shows interest in the issue.

One LDP Saitama prefectural assembly member who submitted a statement opposing foreign suffrage to the assembly said the move was an attempt to shake up the DPJ, “which is divided” on the issue.