Foreign nationals are encouraging Japanese people to exercise their voting rights more after Sunday’s general election resulted in the third-lowest voter turnout in the country’s post-World War II history.
“As citizens in Japan do not get to (directly) pick the head of government, unlike in the United States, Japanese people may be less aware of the fact that it is their government,” U.S.-born comedian Patrick Harlan, known as Pakkun in Japan, said.
Voter turnout for single-seat constituencies in the election for the House of Representatives, the lower chamber of Japan’s parliament, stood as low as 55.93%.
Noting the recent rise in the number of foreign workers in Japan, Harlan said that thinking of a society in which such people can live comfortably will lead to a society in which everybody can live comfortably.
“People should prioritize their lives when deciding for whom to vote, but I urge people to also think about those who cannot vote,” he said.
Yu Miri, an author with South Korean nationality, posted on Twitter last month, “It would be great if those who have suffrage could keep the circumstances of those without such rights in mind.”
The winner of the Akutagawa award for up-and-coming authors of pure literature said that Japan is made of not just Japanese people but also of over 2.88 million people of foreign nationalities who live and work in the country.
The tweet was met with online abuse from people who interpreted it as a call for giving voting rights to foreigners in Japan, with one Twitter user demanding that she go to South Korea if she wanted to vote.
Yu said that she remembers bullies in her elementary school years in Tsuchiura, Ibaraki Prefecture, mocking her family for not receiving letters related to elections due to their nationality.
“Those who want to vote but can’t include children, people fighting diseases and those who died in disasters,” Yu said. “I believe that a single vote is very significant and precious, and I hope those who are eligible to vote will at least not forget about those who aren’t.”
Robert Campbell, a professor at Waseda University with U.S. nationality, is not supportive of giving voting rights to foreigners. Nevertheless, he has received xenophobic online abuse similar to what was directed at Yu.
“I was moved by Yu’s post, because it spoke on behalf of many people around the world such as immigrants and those without citizenship,” he said.
“A vote is very special and important from the perspective of those who don’t have it,” Campbell said. “To be able to feel that, I think, is healthy patriotism.”
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