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The pro-Seoul Korean Residents Union in Japan (Mindan) petitioned Diet lawmakers Wednesday to pass a controversial bill to grant local-level suffrage to permanent foreign residents by the end of this year.

Mindan, the most vocal lobby group for the suffrage bill, collected the petition because opposition to the idea is rapidly gaining strength within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

While 150 Mindan leaders from across Japan visited the Tokyo offices of 730 members of both Diet chambers, Mindan President Kim Jae Sook met with LDP Secretary General Hiromu Nonaka.

During the meeting, Kim emphasized that Mindan hopes the bill, which has already been submitted to the legislature, will be passed during the current extraordinary Diet session, which lasts through early December.

Nonaka said he is “sorry” his party has not yet reached a consensus on the issue and promised he will make “the utmost efforts” to gain members’ support.

Kim told reporters that those LDP opponents “must have some misunderstanding,” adding that the legislation would benefit Japan as an open, democratic country.

Opponents argue that the bill infringes on the Constitution, which they interpret as excluding foreign nationals from voting in elections.

On the suggested idea of granting Japanese nationality, rather than voting rights, to the permanent residents, Kim said suffrage should be granted regardless.

Ethnic Koreans account for about 90 percent of the some 630,000 foreigners who are permanent residents of Japan. Mindan claims it represents a majority of the Korean permanent residents.

Meanwhile, the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryun), which has ties with North Korea, opposes the bill, arguing that suffrage would only detract from residents’ ethnicity and assimilate them into Japanese society.

In a recent summit with Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, South Korean President Kim Dae Jung urged that the suffrage bill be passed by the end of the year.

Party retreats on vote

Retreating from its earlier position, New Komeito implied Wednesday that it will not stick to its request for a new law to be enacted during the current Diet session to give permanent foreign residents the right to vote in local elections.

“As the Liberal Democratic Party is still ironing out (its members’) opinions (on the issue), we will have to wait a little longer and see how discussions within the LDP develop,” New Komeito leader Takenori Kanzaki told a regular press conference.

Kanzaki added, however, that his party will continue to do its utmost to have the suffrage bill approved by the time the present Diet session ends in December.

New Komeito, a member of the LDP-led ruling coalition and an ardent advocate of the suffrage bill, had strongly asked the LDP to put the bill to a parliamentary vote during the current session.

Kanzaki’s about-face is apparently the result of recent movements by LDP lawmakers, who are stepping up their opposition to non-Japanese residents being granted the right to vote.

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