Six years after a system was introduced to allow Japanese living overseas to cast ballots in national elections in Japan, their voter turnout remains extremely low.

Of the estimated 683,000 Japanese eligible to vote who live overseas, only 88,085 registered as voters in the July 11 House of Councilors election, and a mere 25.41 percent of them — 20,551 — actually cast their votes. The figure represented just 3 percent of the eligible voters.

The unsuccessful attempt by a Japanese resident in Paraguay to win a Diet seat in the election appears to highlight the problems in the system that critics say discourage people from voting.

“I will serve as a bridge between overseas Japanese and my mother country, Japan,” Michio Takakura, 63, who has lived in Paraguay for 28 years, said in one of his campaign speeches he delivered in cities with a large population of Japanese expatriates.

Takakura, who has obtained permanent residency in Paraguay while maintaining Japanese citizenship, ran in the election on the proportional representation ticket of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, saying he wants to represent the voice of overseas Japanese.

During the campaign, he toured Los Angeles and Sao Paulo and called for support among the Japanese populations there.

Takakura was effectively the first-ever candidate to campaign abroad. The Japanese-style campaign, in which he called out to voters from a loudspeaker-equipped van, drew local attention.

Voting by overseas Japanese was enabled by a 1998 amendment of the election law, and was first introduced in the House of Representatives election in 2000. Currently, overseas Japanese are allowed to vote only in the proportional representation segment of Diet elections.

Takakura, who publishes the Japanese language newspaper Nikkei Journal in Paraguay, was fervently welcomed by Japanese expatriates as he called for expanding the system to constituency elections and better welfare service for overseas Japanese.

However, he collected only 12,416 votes — the lowest among the LDP’s proportional representation candidates.

“I felt positive responses (of the voters), but was unable to collect as many votes as I had anticipated. The result was disappointing,” Takakura said.

His supporters say a majority of the votes he collected appear to have come from people in Japan who have relatives overseas, instead of from expatriates themselves.

Critics say overseas Japanese are often discouraged from voting by the cumbersome procedure.

They must visit Japanese embassies or consulates in advance to register as voters by submitting local residency certificates and other necessary documents. They can cast their ballots at these facilities.

People who do not have Japanese embassies or consulates nearby can vote by mail.

But they have to first apply to the election management committee of their last place of residency in Japan for voting forms. They fill in and send the ballots back to the election committee, but some votes by Japanese residents in countries whose postal system is poor failed to reach the committee in time for the vote count.

“Voter turnout will not increase unless the voting system is fundamentally reformed,” Takakura said, advocating creation of a special constituency for overseas Japanese and allowing expatriate community organizations to open polling stations.

The Constitution says “universal adult suffrage is guaranteed with regard to the election of public officials.”

Takakura argued that all Japanese — no matter where they live worldwide — should be given the same rights to vote. He says he does not plan to run in the next Diet election but will continue with his campaign to expand the rights of overseas Japanese.

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