In their election manifestoes, New Komeito, the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party pledge to achieve foreign suffrage. Other parties, like the Liberal Democratic Party, the People’s New Party, the Sunrise Party of Japan and Your Party, are opposed to the change.
In contrast, the ruling Democratic Party of Japan’s manifesto says nothing about the issue. When the DPJ was formed, its party platform said foreign suffrage should be “realized quickly.” After gaining power, then Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and then Secretary-General Ichiro Ozawa were eager to make this happen.
But the DPJ’s coalition partner, the People’s New Party, and some local assemblies reject the idea. Even some DPJ members are against the move.
More than 2.2 million foreign residents are registered in Japan, and 910,000 of them have been granted permanent resident status. Japan is already a country comprising people with various backgrounds. It is appropriate to have those people rooted in their local communities to share the responsibility in solving problems and developing their communities.
It is also appropriate to allow their participation in local elections as residents, while respecting their bonds to their home nations.
In its new strategy for economic growth, the government says it will consider a framework for taking in foreigners to supplement the work force. To become an open country, Japan must create an environment that foreigners find easy to live in.
An Asahi Shimbun survey in late April and May showed that 49 percent of the respondents were in favor of foreign suffrage while 43 percent were against it.
Since public opinion is divided, the DPJ, which put the issue on the public agenda, should not waffle but should give steady and persuasive arguments to the public.
The LDP is raising the tone of its criticism, saying foreigners’ voting rights, along with the dual surname system for married couples, is a policy that will “destroy the framework of this country.” The party apparently wants to make the voting rights issue a major conflicting point between conservatives and liberals.
Some opponents express concerns about the negative effects on national security. However, this kind of argument can nurture anti-foreign bigotry and ostracism. It sounds like nothing more than an inward-looking call for self-preservation.
Some say foreigner suffrage goes “against the Constitution.” However, it is only natural to construe from the Supreme Court ruling of February 1995 that the Constitution neither guarantees nor prohibits foreigner suffrage but rather “allows” it.
The decision on foreign suffrage depends on legislative policy.
In an age when people easily cross national borders, what kind of society does Japan wish to become? How do we determine the qualifications and rights of people who comprise our country and communities? To what extent do we want to open our gates to immigrants? How do we control social diversity and turn it into energy?
Politicians need to discuss the suffrage issue based on their answers to these questions. The issue of foreign residents’ voting rights is a prelude to something bigger.