Staff writer

New Komeito and the Liberal Party will jointly submit a bill as early as this week to give permanent foreign residents the right to vote in local elections, New Komeito Secretary General Tetsuzo Fuyushiba said in a recent interview with The Japan Times.

Fuyushiba, a key policy coordinator of the tripartite coalition parties, has for years been promoting the establishment of such a law.

However, some conservative LDP members, mainly those in an intraparty faction led by Shizuka Kamei and Takami Eto, are still resisting the bill, and its submission by the two parties may cause another rift to form in the rocky coalition.

But Fuyushiba is determined to submit the bill without the LDP’s agreement.

“I will keep trying until the last moment (to secure the agreement of the LDP),” Fuyushiba said.

Even if the LDP eventually decides to cooperate and back the bill’s journey into law by persuading the reluctant members, Fuyushiba said he would welcome its support with open arms.

Of the 626,760 permanent foreign residents in Japan, 554,875 are Korean.

The bill, drawn up by New Komeito, virtually excludes North Koreans in Japan, who are generally opposed to the proposed law because it would weaken their ethnic identity.

Fuyushiba chairs a special committee to improve the legal status of Korean residents for a Japan-South Korea association of lawmakers.

Through exchanges with South Korean lawmakers, he came to realize the strong aspirations of South Koreans and the necessity for the legislation, he said.

Many opponents of the bill argue that a “reciprocity principle” should come first, saying South Korea should give a similar right to Japanese residents in South Korea.

But Fuyushiba points out that Japanese living more than five years in South Korea number only several hundred, and none of them have been forcibly taken to South Korea as the many Koreans who were forcibly brought to Japan during World War II.

“Has Japan ever been colonized and ruled (by South Korea)? The situations are totally different,” Fuyushiba explained, saying simple reciprocity that ignores history is meaningless.

Fuyushiba believes that permanent foreign residents should also eventually be granted the right to be elected as a local assembly member or local government chief.

But such an idea is still politically too sensitive, Fuyushiba said, so his priority now is establishing local suffrage.

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