Natsuo Yamaguchi, head of lay Buddhist-backed Komeito, said Monday that permanent foreign residents should be granted the right to vote in local elections, presenting a stark contrast with an upstart rival challenging his party in the snap election this weekend.

The question of whether to let non-Japanese vote is not one of the key issues in the Oct. 22 general election, but it’s one that’s been raised by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike and her upstart Kibo no To (Party of Hope).

The long-standing controversy resurfaced when Koike told fleeing members of the disintegrating opposition Democratic Party to sign a contract that obliged them to oppose foreign suffrage as a condition for joining her party.

“At a national level, I don’t think foreign residents should be allowed to vote or run in elections because there could be a situation where their interests conflict with ours,” Yamaguchi said in an interview with The Japan Times at Komeito headquarters.

“But as far as permanent residents are concerned, I think they should at least be given the right to vote to have a say in the decision-making process of the region they live in.”

The issue is an emotionally charged one because permanent Korean residents have long demanded suffrage on account of the factors that led to them to settle here and the fact that they pay their taxes. They would receive this right if they agreed to acquire Japanese nationality.

Komeito has maintained a tolerant view on the matter, but its partner, the conservative LDP, argues that granting suffrage could potentially lead to the islands near Japan’s neighbors being overrun by foreign elements.

Yamaguchi said his party is “not pushing to the fore any particular policy regarding foreign residents” in Japan for the election.

Nevertheless, he said Komeito wants to create a Japan that’s “open to the international community” by boosting tourism and “aggressively campaigning” for a successful 2020 Olympics and the right to host the 2025 World Expo in Osaka.

Komeito, he said, will also take advantage of its ties with China and South Korea to bolster Abe’s efforts to encourage the global community to “thoroughly implement sanctions against” recalcitrant North Korea.

Komeito’s longtime partnership with the LDP was strained in July when its Tokyo chapter took the bold step of joining forces with Koike’s Tomin First no Kai (Tokyoites First) to dethrone the LDP in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election. She has since left her post as party head to lead Kibo no To, though she insists she is not seeking a Diet seat.

Yamaguchi, however, categorically ruled out any change in the LDP-Komeito dynamic at the national level after the election, claiming he has “no intention whatsoever” to tie up with other parties, including Kibo no To.

Yamaguchi also said he backs Abe’s goal of winning a combined 233 seats. Some critics say the goal is intentionally unambitious because the LDP can afford to lose nearly 90 seats before the coalition risks losing its majority in the lower chamber.

“It’s imperative that we secure the victory line,” Yamaguchi said. Any decrease in LDP seats “would cause no direct damage to his ability to maintain power as long as we top that line.”

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