As the Democratic Party of Japan’s presidential election nears, an interesting fact has surfaced regarding internal regulations on who gets to vote for the ruling party’s leader — and effectively the prime minister.

The Sept. 14 election, the DPJ’s first major presidential race since 2002, will be open not only to Diet lawmakers but also to regional assembly members and the estimated 350,000 registered party members across the nation.

With kingpin Ichiro Ozawa throwing his hat in the ring Thursday to face off against Prime Minister Naoto Kan, it will be the most heated presidential race in the party’s history.

But here’s the catch. DPJ regulations allow anyone who is 18 or older to become a member of the party, provided they dish out an annual fee. Membership comes in two flavors: being a “member” costs ¥6,000, while being a “supporter” takes ¥2,000. This includes Japanese nationals living abroad and foreigners living in Japan.

The issue was no big deal back when the DPJ was still in the opposition, but now that it’s the ruling party, critics have pointed out that resident foreigners have a chance to vote for the next DPJ president, and ultimately the prime minister.

The Political Funds Control Law states that foreigners are not allowed to donate to political parties, but while the ¥6,000 and ¥2,000 payments are calculated as party membership fees — not donations — and do not directly come under the fund control law, critics question the legality of such money.

In contrast, the Liberal Democratic Party, the main opposition force, limits its membership to Japanese nationals. The same goes for the Japanese Communist Party and Your Party.

“It’s fine for Japan to be open to foreign nations, but extreme caution should be required when dealing with issues of sovereignty or deciding on the nation’s leader,” said Yasuharu Ishizawa, a professor of media and politics at Gakushuin Women’s College, adding that the same goes for the ongoing debate on whether to give foreigners living in Japan the right to vote in local elections.

Staunch opponents of granting suffrage to foreigners have argued that the foreign community could vote as a bloc to elect governors and assembly members they favor, thus indirectly influencing Diet members elected from their areas and ultimately undermining national interests.

Critics have also pointed out how this might breach the Constitution, which states that sovereignty rests with the people — who are defined as those who possess Japanese nationality.

But to be fair, the chance is rather slim that resident foreigners who sign up as DPJ members will have a significant impact on the outcome of the presidential election.

It is difficult to tell what percentage of party members are of foreign nationality, as the DPJ doesn’t keep track of the number of foreigners registered. A DPJ representative said the entry sheet for membership doesn’t require applicants to state their nationality.

Under the party’s voting system, the winner will be whoever gets the majority of 1,224 total points up for grabs.

DPJ Diet lawmakers, of which there are currently 412, each get one vote that counts as two points.

This means they will account for 824 points.

The 2,382 regional assembly members will share a total of 100 points between them, while the roughly 350,000 party members will be responsible for 300 points.

Koichi Nakano, a political science professor at Sophia University, said it is unrealistic to think resident foreigners could have a significant impact on the outcome.

“Considering how the ruling party’s president becomes the prime minister, I can understand how there might be further debate on the DPJ’s current system,” he said. “But I believe it’s highly unlikely that foreigners will realistically hold sway in national politics — it’s best to avoid any hysterical reactions.”

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