Academic journal article Washington International Law Journal

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

Academic journal article Washington International Law Journal

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

Article excerpt


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. Part II provides an overview of the global growth in alien suffrage and a history of the alien suffrage movement in Japan. It then examines Japan's imminent social security problem and the relationship of this crisis to migration. Part III examines the constitutionality of the Local Suffrage Bill. This section explores the rights of foreigners under the Japanese Constitution and provides a comparison of rulings by Germany's Federal Constitutional Court and the Japanese Supreme Court regarding alien suffrage legislation. Through an examination of particular provisions of the Local Suffrage Bill,19 Part III concludes that the Bill is indeed constitutional. Finally, Part III closes with a discussion of the policy implications and expected spillover effects of the legislation on immigration to Japan, positing that adoption of the Bill would facilitate Japan's future economic and social welfare policies. Part IV closes this Comment with a recommendation that Japan pass the Local Suffrage Bill because, in comparison to the potential social and economic gains passage would entail, the obstacles are relatively few.


A. Alien Suffrage Is Gaining Ground Throughout the World

Under the principle of popular sovereignty, leaders must exercise their authority in conformity with the will of the people. …

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