Granting Permanent Resident Aliens the Right to Vote in Local Government: The New Komeito Continues to Promote Alien Suffrage in Japan

Article excerpt

Abstract: Throughout the world, the dominant suffrage model has been voting rights based on citizenship. However, the trend of globalization, the increase of crossborder migration, and the advent of supranational institutions such as the European Union have prompted many countries to reconsider the relationship between nationality and voting rights. This has resulted in a growing trend, beginning in Europe and spreading most recently to South Korea, of adopting a notion of suffrage based on residency and community rather than citizenship. Japan is currently considering legislation, known as the "Local Suffrage Bill," which would allow permanent resident aliens ("PRAs") to vote in local elections. The Constitution of Japan grants the right to vote solely to Japanese nationals. However, Japan has an ever-increasing PRA population and a growing interest in alien suffrage. While there is opposition to the movement, the Japanese Supreme Court has held that granting suffrage to PRAs on a subnational level is constitutional. In 2004, the New Komeito, a member of Japan's ruling coalition, resubmitted its 2000 Local Suffrage Bill to the Diet. Passage of the bill would allow Japan's PRAs to more fully participate in Japanese society and would have an impact beyond simply following the global trend in alien suffrage. With Japan facing a looming social security crisis that necessitates a sustainable influx of foreign laborers, an alien suffrage bill could encourage long-term migration and help ensure Japan's continued economic success.

I. INTRODUCTION

In 1990, Kim Chong Gyu,1 a permanent resident alien2 ("PRA") living in Osaka, Japan, attempted to register to vote in a local election in the Kita Ward of the city.3 The Ward officials refused to accept his registration,4 noting that the Public Offices Election Law5 allows only Japanese citizens to vote. Mr. Kim, a so-called "Korean in Japan,"7 was born and raised in Japan. As he wrote, "[i]f the term 'holder of South Korean citizenship' is taken away, there are no differences in my living conditions from a 'holder of Japanese citizenship' and it would be alright to say we are of the same nature."8 Although Mr. Kim was an equal member of Japanese society in lifestyle, education, and ambition, he was unable to equally participate in the political processes directly affecting his life.

Because the Ward officials refused his registration, in November of 1990 Mr. Kim and ten other PRAs sued local election officials in the Osaka District Court.9 Following the Osaka District Court's dismissal of the suit in June of 1993,10 in 1995, the Japanese Supreme Court granted an appeal to Mr. Kim and a majority of his co-plaintiffs.11 The Supreme Court ultimately affirmed the lower court's ruling, agreeing with the Kita Ward officials' interpretation of the Public Offices Election Law.12 Also, the Supreme Court held that the Constitution of Japan13 only guarantees Japanese citizens the right to vote, excluding PRAs from its purview.14 The Supreme Court's opinion, however, contained two statements of consequence: 1) the Constitution does not prohibit establishing suffrage for PRAs in local elections; and 2) any such steps should be taken by the national legislature.15 This dicta arguably makes Kim v. Osaka, the most important case to the alien suffrage movement in Japan to date. Kim is the first and only case in which the Supreme Court intimated that granting voting rights, which have been traditionally regarded as the premier badge of citizenship, to aliens is constitutionally feasible.16 Since this decision, several local governments throughout Japan made special provisions to allow PRAs living within their boundaries some form of political participation.17 More importantly, the Diet, Japan's parliament, is currently considering the passage of a voting rights law known as the "Local Suffrage Bill."18

This Comment examines the constitutionality of the Local Suffrage Bill and advocates for its adoption, a move which would lead to an increase in PRAs' participation in Japanese society and to the development of Japan's future social security policy. …