Subject: [cwj 128] Voting Rights for Koreans Still Hanging
From: Corporate Watch in Japanese <>
Date: Mon, 27 Nov 2000 19:07:03 -0800
Seq: 128

Voting Rights for Koreans Still Hanging

By Suvendrini Kakuchi

TOKYO, Nov 20 (IPS) - Debates about giving voting rights to
foreigners who live permanently in Japan are not new, but a
growing number of Japanese now agree that such rights be given
though it remains a very emotional issue here.

As a sign of how touchy the issue is -- especially with regard
to giving voting rights to ethnic Koreans -- steadfast opposition
among senior politicians is expected to delay acceptance of a new
bill in the Parliament or Diet that would allow foreign residents
to vote in local elections.

The new proposal, debated by legislators last week with no
quick resolution in sight, seeks to allow resident Koreans,
Japan's largest minority, to vote.

Ethnic Koreans, most of them forcibly brought to Japan during
the country's colonisation of the Korean peninsula between 1910
and 1945, and their descendants, make up 900,000 of Japan's 1.5
million foreign population.

Of the 630,000 permanent residents in Japan today, 600,000 are
ethnic Koreans. Many struggle with discrimination in a country
that is a mostly homogenous society.

But new polls conducted on the issue indicate widening public
support for extending voting rights to foreigners, especially
among younger generation.

A new survey by a student body at the prestigious Tokyo
University -- which polled more than 700 people attending 20
universities across Japan -- showed an overwhelming 90 percent of
respondents supporting the bill giving voting rights to permanent

But even the Korean population in Japan is split on the bill.

Forty four-year-old Pak Yu Cha, a second-generation Korean who
has decided not to take Japanese nationality, says she supports
voting rights for ethnic Koreans.

''I support local voting rights because I reject the Japanese
argument that voting rights should not be given to foreigners
unless they have Japanese nationality. This law means that we
foreigners are not whole people with rights to vote that must be
respected,'' she says.

But Pak, who does not speak Korean, says she has no plans to
leave Japan because this is where she was born and raised. Her
parents did not apply for Japanese citizenship because they had
hoped to return to North Korea one day.

But some Koreans of North Korean descent do not want voting
rights, which they say should not be extended to foreigners.

Chongryon, North Korea's official association in Japan, resists
assimilating ethnic Koreans into Japanese society. It has its own
schools and other institutions such as banks.

Kan, a 71-year-old Korean who escaped to Japan in 1952 during
the Korean War, says the new voting bill does not matter to him at

Kan, a rich businessman, married an ethnic Korean in Japan and
fought both official and social discrimination, such as having no
rights to national pension benefits on the basis of his foreign

''I toyed with the idea of changing my nationality to become a
Japanese. But at that time being naturalised meant overcoming many
barriers such as a clause that required me to change my name to a
Japanese one. I just gave up,'' he explains.

Kan's remarks highlight the social issues behind the debate on
voting rights for foreign residents, especially Koreans. Indeed,
the bill reflects debates stemming from the rapid
internationalisation of Japanese society in the past decade.

''What we should really be debating is how Japan intends to
meet the challenges of globalisation. Within Japan there is likely
to be much more diversity of ethnic groups and cultures in the
21st century,'' the 'Mainichi' daily newspaper recently pointed

Japan's economic woes have forced the government to reconsider
its support for its strict immigration policy, which resists
opening the door to foreigners. Supporters of less immigration
contend the influx will provide a threat to the nation's

On this basis, the 'Mainichi' newspaper rebukes older
politicians such as the secretary general of the powerful Liberal
Democratic Party (LDP), Hiromu Nonaka, who want to tie the new
bill to Japan's wartime repatriations.

Still, the issue of voting rights for Koreans has become a
political decision, criticises the Japanese media. It also says
some politicians oppose the voting-rights bill because it is
supported by the South Korean government.

The bill was submitted by New Komeito party and the
Conservative Party, the smaller two parties in the current
tripartite coalition leading the government.

Analysts point out that the underlying reason for Komeito's
backing of the bill is its affiliation with the religious
organisation Soka Gakkai, of which a large number of ethnic
Koreans are members.

Opinions on the bill are mixed in the powerful Liberal
Democratic Party, which has consistently supported the deeply
entrenched policy that requires foreigners to take on Japanese
citizenship in order to obtain the right to vote.

For instance, Nonaka has suggested that voting rights be
limited to permanent residents and their descendants who have been
living in Japan prior to the end of World War II.

Yoshiro Kimura, a LDP politician, said it is better for Japan
to enact laws that would make the naturalisation process easier
for foreigners rather than give them suffrage.

Other opponents of the bill, such as the Kagawa prefectural
assembly in southern Japan that adopted a resolution opposing it,
argues that Japan's Constitution states that the right to choose
public officials does not apply to foreign residents.

The debates on voting rights will not end anytime soon, say
people like Kan, the ethnic Korean businessman. This is because
foreigners can never expect to be treated as Japanese in Japan, he

''Even if we did become Japanese, we will still be considered
outsiders because of the age-old Japanese family registration
system that continues to document the family background of the
applicant. That's the reality, so why the fuss over giving limited
voting rights?'' Kan asks. (END/IPS/ap-ip-hd/sk/js/00)

Origin: Manila/POLITICS-JAPAN/

       [c] 2000, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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