Enacting laws to allow permanent foreign residents to vote in local-level elections may be difficult in the near future and more debate is needed to form a nonpartisan consensus in the Diet, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said Thursday.
Speaking in the Lower House, Hatoyama emphasized that he is still a firm advocate of voting rights for permanent foreign residents but said the issue remains sensitive.
“I’ve long believed that (permanent foreign residents) should be granted voting rights in local elections, even in national elections,” Hatoyama said at a Budget Committee meeting in response to a question from Tomomi Inada of the Liberal Democratic Party. The conservative opposition party opposes voting rights for foreigners.
“But in my current position, I also understand that even granting local voting rights could be a difficult matter,” Hatoyama said.
Permanent foreign residents, including ethnic Koreans who have grown up here, are not allowed to vote in local or national elections despite being treated in virtually all other regards as taxpaying Japanese.
The DPJ and other parties have been submitting bills to grant foreign residents suffrage for years, only to be crushed each time by opposition or indifference from the long-ruling LDP.
Hatoyama recently hinted that another bill might be submitted “in the near future,” possibly as soon as next year.
Inada noted the Political Funds Control Law prohibits foreigners from making political donations to prevent foreign influence in politics.
“If foreigners aren’t even allowed to make political donations for fear of outside influence, what would be the impact if they were granted voting rights?” Inada asked.
Hatoyama said that while he acknowledges the existence of the regulation, the nation should not exclude foreigners when considering the prospects for a country that is struggling to deal with a shrinking population and other looming demographic problems.
“Many of the problems facing the nation cannot be solved if the nation remains exclusive,” Hatoyama said.
“We need a more open environment — granting local voting rights for permanent foreign residents is an issue that cannot be dismissed.”
In a list of policy proposals for election campaigns, the DPJ pledged to keep pushing for laws to grant local voting rights for permanent foreign residents, but the party’s “manifesto” pledges of higher priority avoided the issue.