The debate about opening the polls to long time residents of Japan, who are not citizens has been raging in Japan for months now. The current discussion is focused on whether Japan should adopt legislation to extend voting rights to Permanent Residents, who are not Japanese Citizens.
The proposed Foreigner's Suffrage bill has divided the government. The call for voting rights for long-time residents of Japan is in large part being pushed by the South Korean government. There are an estimated 400,000 Korean citizens currently holding Permanent Residency in Japan. Under current voting laws they are not allowed to cast ballots in elections. These Korean citizens are in large part fully integrated into Japanese society, speaking fluent Japanese, owning businesses and property. Many of them are third and fourth generation residents. Japanese Citizenship is based on lineage and these Koreans are kept in a pseudo-citizen category. Some of the Koreans who were Permanent Residents, have married Japanese spouses and have become naturalized citizens. Many of them are not currently Japanese Citizens.
It is my contention that in order to vote in any country, you should follow the legal avenues to become a citizen of such a country and not be voting from the outside in. Although these Korean citizens and a great deal of other nationalities currently reside in Japan on a full time, permanent basis they should not be voting in Japanese elections, be they local or national.
“The government should not be hasty in submitting a bill to the ordinary Diet session to grant local voting rights to permanent foreign residents in Japan, Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Kazuhiro Haraguchi said Saturday.” (1)
Haraguchi came out in support of the legislation back in the fall of 2009 and has since became a little more moderate on his stance as the above quote demonstrates. The Democrats have been attempting to open a more positive dialogue with Seoul on a variety of issues. The main focus of the DPJ has been to increase positive relations with the Asian community, and granting voting rights to non Japanese citizens seems to be another ploy to this end.
Prime Minister Hatoyama and Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa have been supporting the foreigner's suffrage bill and pushing for the proposed bill to make its way quickly through the necessary Diet sessions, so that it can be passed into law. The Democratic Party of Japan has been working towards Permanent Resident legislation since 1998, but due to staunch opposition from the Liberal Democrats they could not get the previous 12 bills through the house. (2)
Japan is often criticized by foreign residents as being slightly racist. Japanese citizens periodically look down on Korean Permanent Residents in Japan. Although granting voting rights to long time residents could alleviate some of these tensions, the vote specifically should only be granted to full fledged citizens of Japan.