Permanent residence may be granted the right to vote in Japan.
By, Uwe Paschen.
To give or not to give permanent residence the right to vote in Japan, this is the question many ask them self these days.
Japan may give permanent residence the right to vote at the local and maybe even at the national level as well. This idea is not new, the Democratic Party of Japan called for "early legislation" in respect of that goal as part of its basic policies adopted when the party was established in 1998. A bill was submitted to that end to the Diet in October of that same year, as the DPJ was an opposition party. The DPJ however did not include this proposal in its manifesto for the Aug. 30, 2009 House of Representatives election due to the cautious stance taken by some party members. Nevertheless, this bill is now resurfacing and may pass since the DPJ does hold the majority in the House of Representatives since August last, the bill does have a strong support with in the DPJ leadership, including Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada and Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa.
Ichiro Ozawa may even be its strongest advocate and he is seen as the backbone of the Japanese government.
The Japanese top court has already made a statement to that regard in 1995, saying that the Constitution does not prohibit permanent foreign residents from being given the right to vote in elections for municipal heads and assembly members, and that legislatures should decide whether to give them that right. The obiter dictum the Court gave is not legally binding for the government though.
Some argue that being a tax paying resident should allow one to retain some political an legislative rights such as the right to vote, this argument by it self is a dangerous one though, for it open the doors to a line of argument that people who do not pay taxes should not be permitted to vote. This in turn could undermine the democratic values and integrity of the country.
Still, as permanent resident one is a fully integrated part of the country and should be granted the right to vote and participate at least in local politics that directly affect once children schooling, once work and all other aspects of life, this is especially the view of the Korean Diaspora.
This debate is not unique to Japan either nor are the diverging opinion on it. In Germany and France for instance, it has been debated back and forth for over two decades now, resulting in some changes for the Turkish permanent residence in Germany and the Algerian Permanent Residence in France, those where granted some of these rights at the municipal level. In addition, New-Zealand has awarded its permanent residence the right to vote since 1975 and this not only at a local level but at a national level as well. This as long as they have resided continuously in New-Zealand at least for a period of one year and in the electoral district at least for a period of one month.
Why is it important? Japan like many other countries does not allow dual citizen ship, at least not as a norm, further, one is not granted Japanese citizenship by birth either, unless one parent is Japanese, same is the case in Germany for instance.
Since Japan does need to retain its permanent residence as well as introduce and facilitate more immigration due to its low birth rates and rapidly aging population. It has to make some legislative changes to address those problems, especially due to the pressure exercised by its large Korea Diaspora that in 1995 took the matter to the Japanese courts.
First and second Generation immigrants still have strong ties to their country of origine and are not willing to severe those readily, mainly for family reasons, such as having to return to their home land for a time to care for aging parents. Also allowing their children the freedom and giving them the opportunity to go back if they so show’s, May that be for their education or to reside in their parents country of origine.
For the Korean it is even more importand to retain their Korean Citizenship and this more for historical reasons then practical once. They where broth to Japan in the 1930s and 40s, some by force as Korea was part of the Japanese Empire.
This is in part why for many permanent residence it is a question of identity that is not much different then once religious or cultural affiliation would be.
With only 1,6% foreigners living in Japan today of wish less then 60% are permanent residence, their potential impact on the political arena would be minimal. Still the Nationalist movement radically opposes the idea and lobbies with fury against this bill to be passed, even though being a minority, the nationalist certainly make up for it in noise and propaganda and can not be ignored for it.
However, arguments of national security and potential terrorism do not stand up to logic, since the danger of such is far greater coming from with in the Japanese Nationals, as statistics show, then coming from the permanent residence in Japan, for those are usually the most law obeying subject in the country, let alone out of fear to lose their status.
There are also numerous prejudices that need to be overcome with facts, such as criminality rising in Japan, Often blamed on the rise in foreigner, wish is not true though since statically speaking, crimes committed by foreigners are infinitely few and not on the rise either.
Further, discrimination against immigrants especially at their work place does still exist.
Perhaps it is time that the Japanese government reconsider the voting rights of this growing segment of the population. It would certainly be seen as a progressive step and betterment of the status of permanent residence in Japan as well as a step toward further democratisation of society over all, wish by it self is most desirable for all residence regardless of their status.