Staff writer OSAKA — A new Osaka governor will be elected today by some 7 million eligible voters in the prefecture, which has a population of 8.83 million. While voter turnout figures show nearly half did not cast ballots in the last three gubernatorial elections, some are unable to vote in local elections even if they long to do so — foreign residents. Korean residents in the prefecture make up the largest group among them, accounting for 160,000 of the 210,000 registered foreign residents in the prefecture. Koreans are not entitled to vote although most of them are permanent residents. “We are just as concerned with the election as Japanese voters are,” said Kim Hyun Soo of the Osaka chapter of the pro-Seoul Korean Residents Union in Japan (Mindan), which has been demanding the right to vote in local elections. According to Mindan, which counts Korean residents in a slightly different way, Osaka has 180,000 Korean residents — the largest group in a total population of 670,000 Koreans living throughout Japan, according to its estimates. Since June 1998, a child born to a Korean resident and a Japanese must choose either nationality at age 22. Before that age, children from such couples are counted by Mindan as Korean residents, Kim said. “Because many of us run small and medium-size companies, we want a new governor who can restore the local economy. As for foreign resident policies, we want a new governor to remove all restrictions on prefectural government jobs,” Kim said. The prefectural government opened 128 kinds of jobs to foreign residents beginning in its recruitment period for fiscal 2000. However, positions that involve exercise of public authority or policymaking remain closed to them, barring promotion of foreign residents to section chief or above. “I think it is within the governor’s authority to decide whether the restriction be removed,” Kim said. “Currently, for example, Korean residents cannot take such posts as directors of prefectural libraries or museums because they can order people who are disturbing the peace to leave the property, which is regarded as an exercise of public authority. “But it is ridiculous because the directors are supposed to care for the assets of local residents, including Korean residents,” he said. Mindan also wants the new governor to select more foreign residents as panelists in the prefecture’s advisory councils, which number about 160, so that their opinions are reflected in local policies. “At the moment, only a few of the councils have foreign residents as members. This is where we can express our opinion, as we have no right to vote,” Kim said. Prefectural officials said they do not know how many such panels have foreign members because they do not have data on the nationality of the members. “We want to be seen, not as foreigners to be put under control, but as human resources who have absorbed the essences of two countries,” Kim said. Meanwhile, the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryun), which opposes giving voting rights to foreign residents in local elections, wants continued support for Korean schools by the prefectural government. Chongryun believes that normalization of diplomatic ties between Japan and North Korea should come before Korean residents take part in local elections, according to Kim Jong Ui of Chongryun’s Osaka chapter. “Former Gov. ‘Knock’ Yokoyama respected ethnic education. We want a new governor to take further steps to support foreign schools, including Korean schools,” Chongryun’s Kim said. Chongryun’s Osaka chapter runs 14 Korean schools in the prefecture with a total of 2,200 elementary to high school students, and the prefecture spent 75,000 yen per student in subsidies in fiscal 1999, while subsidies for Japanese private high schools reached 291,900 yen per student. “Rather than the right to vote in local elections, we want a new governor to protect our ethnic rights, especially in education,” he said.
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