OSAKA – Despite having Japanese citizenship, homeless people cannot exercise voting rights guaranteed by the Constitution because they can’t register their temporary accommodations as official places of residence.
There are no signs the situation will be taken up by candidates in the July 21 House of Councilors election.
“In a way, it is only natural that aspiring politicians are not interested in the homeless because they do not have the votes,” said Hiromitsu Taniuchi, 67, who was formerly on the streets.
After his business failed in Fukui Prefecture in 2003, Taniuchi moved to the Airin district of Nishinari Ward, Osaka, where a cluster of makeshift accommodations for the homeless is located.
The municipal government took issue with the addresses of about 3,600 homeless people registered with just three support facilities for the homeless in the ward. The city subsequently removed the registration records of approximately 2,100 people in March 2007 whose residency in the facilities could not be verified.
Because resident registration is directly linked to the voter registration record controlled by the local election management committee, Taniuchi lost his right to vote when his residency record was eliminated.
“Not listening to the voice of the weak is unfair and writes them off,” he said.
While the law does not clearly define what constitutes a residence, the Supreme Court in 2008 rejected an appeal by a man living in a tent in an Osaka park who had sought to register the park as his address. It is believed that those living in tents and shacks on roadsides and along riverbanks are also not permitted to register their living quarters as an address.
According to a survey conducted in January by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, the number of homeless people across the country totalled 8,265, with the city of Osaka hosting the most, at around 2,000. The majority of the nation’s homeless are believed to be without voting rights.
Shigeru Nagase, 62, who lives in a park also in Nishinari Ward, lost his livelihood as a taxi driver seven years ago after an eye disease damaged his vision. In the neighborhood he moved into, young people frequently attack the homeless while others freeze to death during the winter.
“There is an injustice in society that only we can see. Even if we want to change the present situation, we don’t have the votes to cast,” Nagase said.
The Homeless Legal Supporters, a group established by legal professionals in the city of Kagoshima last December, interviewed about 400 homeless people in seven prefectures, including Tokyo and Kanagawa, and found that 59.4 percent wished to vote.
About 40 people, including Nagase, again petitioned the city of Osaka last month to allow them to register their addresses so they can vote in the Upper House election. But there has been no sign of change.
“It is unconstitutional that you do not have voting rights only because you do not have a home to reside in. (The government) should allow an exception and amend this inequality,” said an official of the Kagoshima group.