2010 bill eyed to give foreigners local-level vote

Kyodo News

The government might draft legislation next year to give permanent foreign residents the right to vote in local-level elections, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said Thursday.

“We are not yet in a situation where a bill has been prepared, and therefore it would be fairly difficult in the next Diet session,” Hatoyama told reporters Thursday, referring to the extraordinary session slated to open Monday. But submitting such a bill could be “an issue in the near future,” he said.

Permanent foreign residents, including ethnic Koreans who have grown roots here since the war, aren’t allowed to vote in local elections, much less national ones, despite lobbying for the right on the grounds that they pay taxes just like Japanese.

Hatoyama’s Democratic Party of Japan and other parties have been submitting bills to the Diet to grant suffrage to foreign residents for years, but they died each time after being opposed by the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party and others.

At a meeting between Hatoyama and other DPJ lawmakers Thursday, DPJ Diet affairs chief Kenji Yamaoka brought up the issue after saying that opposition party New Komeito was considering submitting a foreign suffrage bill at the upcoming Diet session.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano, a DPJ lawmaker who was also at the meeting, said he would consider Yamaoka’s proposal but noted that time may be short, given the extra session will only run for 36 days. He also said it is necessary to hold discussions in the party.

“If we are going to go in that direction, we need (discussions) within the party,” Hirano said. “There are more than 140 freshmen lawmakers, and so it is necessary to discuss the matter well within the party, about how it has developed.”

DPJ Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa said last month that he hoped to see progress during the regular session, which begins early next year.

For his part, Hatoyama said after meeting with South Korean President Lee Myung Bak in Seoul this month that he would consider such legislation. Many permanent residents of Korean descent in Japan hold South Korean nationality, and Lee has been calling for Japan to give them voting rights.

Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party), one of the DPJ’s two junior coalition partners, has opposed giving foreign residents voting rights in local elections.