Thursday, November 26, 2009

"Foreigners' suffrage

"Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and Democratic Party of Japan Secretary-General Ichiro Ozawa both support giving permanent foreign residents the right to vote in elections that choose local government chiefs and assembly members. The bill is due to be submitted to the ordinary Diet session next year.

"Since 1998, the DPJ, New Komeito and other parties had submitted similar bills. However, due to deep-rooted opposition, Diet debate over this issue has made little progress. Meanwhile, local communities are becoming increasingly multicultural.

"The Hatoyama government advocates the creation of a "society where multiple cultures coexist." Then surely it is time to move forward to realize such a society.

"The number of non-Japanese with permanent residency in the nation has increased by 50 percent in the past decade to 910,000. Among them, 420,000 are ethnic Koreans with special permanent residence status due to their historical background.

"The figure has increased because a growing number of foreigners have obtained ordinary permanent residence status. Many decided to live in Japan in and after the 1980s for such reasons as business and marriage. They are from various countries, including China, Brazil and the Philippines.

"Those permanent residents have put down roots as good neighbors in their communities. It is appropriate that they should be given the right to participate in local elections and share the responsibility for improving their communities.

"The nation needs human resources from abroad to maintain vitality in society. Granting the right to vote in local elections to permanent foreign residents will help to create an environment comfortable for foreigners to live in. It will also strengthen local autonomy in line with the trend for decentralization.

"Some opponents insist that foreign residents should acquire Japanese nationality if they want to vote. But it is only natural for them to wish to maintain connections with their native countries while having affectionate ties with the communities they currently live in. The answer is not to exclude those people but to create a society that honors diverse lifestyles.

"More than 200 local governments have come up with ordinances that enable foreign residents to vote in local referendums on issues like municipal mergers. In 1995, the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution does not forbid new legislation to grant voting rights in local elections to non-Japanese residents with close interests in their communities.

"More than 40 countries, such as European nations and South Korea, have given suffrage to foreign residents who meet certain requirements and conditions.

"In recent years, opponents have increasingly expressed concerns that a large number of foreigners could use their voting rights for purposes that might put national security at risk. We cannot accept such inflammatory arguments that seek to agitate, cause anxiety and stir up exclusive intolerance. It is far more dangerous to isolate and exclude foreign residents as "those who might cause harm." We should include them into the community to create a stable society.

"The DPJ is considering a bill that would limit voting rights to people from countries that have diplomatic relations with Japan. The ruling party is apparently trying to allay anti-North Korean sentiment by excluding ethnic Koreans registered under Joseon (old undivided Korea) nationality, instead of South Korea.

"However, all people with Joseon nationality do not necessarily support North Korea. We are now trying to create an inclusive system to allow foreign residents to participate as good neighbors in local communities.

"Is it really appropriate to exclude a certain group of people based on different political concerns? Further debate is necessary."

By Asahi Shimbun (Editorial, 11/23/2009), Link to article (last visited 11/26/2009)

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