KYOTO — In an effort to empower citizens in local politics, a civic group was formed here Monday to draw up a draft ordinance that would require municipalities to hold plebiscites upon request by local voters.
“Kyoto Shimin Tohyo no Kai” (Kyoto Group for Plebiscites) is also seeking to revise the Local Government Law. The group is a result of the increasing frustration among activists over the large number of proposals to hold nonbinding plebiscites that have been rejected by municipal assemblies, despite support from a substantial portion of local voters.
In most U.S. states and many European countries, plebiscites are held automatically once a certain number of signatures from the local electorate is collected. In Japan, however, the Local Government Law says that holding a plebiscite requires enactment of a local ordinance on each subject. Petitions for a plebiscite must be filed with signatures from 2 percent or more of the local electorate. Plebiscites can be held only after the petition is approved by the local assembly. The group is seeking to simplify the process and have authorities hold a plebiscite once a required number of local voters call for one.
During the last four years, 45 proposals from citizens, assembly members, mayors or governors were made to hold plebiscites on a variety of issues including construction of a waste disposal facility, an airport and a dam. However, only eight plebiscites have taken place so far, according to Hajime Imai, a journalist who has been following the issue.
Even in cases where citizens have collected a large number of signatures, their proposals have been voted down by local assemblies without substantial debate. For instance, the Tokushima Municipal Assembly rejected a proposal in February to hold a plebiscite over the controversial Yoshino River dam project despite the fact that the proposal received 101,535 signatures in the area, equal to nearly half the number of local voters. Even if a plebiscite is actually held, the local government is not legally bound by the results — in contrast to some European nations.