Conservative intellectuals and key executives from five political parties were among the thousands who gathered in Tokyo on Saturday to rally against granting foreign residents voting rights for local elections.
On hand were financial services minister Shizuka Kamei, who heads Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party), Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Tadamori Oshima, former trade minister Takeo Hiranuma, who recently launched his own political party, Tachiagare Nippon (Sunrise Party of Japan), and Your Party leader Yoshimi Watanabe.
Jin Matsubara, a Lower House member from the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, also attended.
According to the organizer, a total of 10,257 people attended the convention at the Nippon Budokan arena in Chiyoda Ward, including representatives of prefectural assemblies and citizens from across the nation.
Oshima, the LDP’s No. 2, promised that “in the name of protecting the nation’s sovereignty” the largest opposition party would do everything in its power to prevent such a bill from being enacted.
Your Party chief Watanabe accused the DPJ of using the suffrage issue to lure New Komeito, which supports foreigners’ local election rights, before the upcoming Upper House election. “This is nothing but an election ploy by the DPJ,” he claimed.
In an opening speech preceded by the singing of the “Kimigayo” national anthem, Atsuyuki Sassa, former head of the Cabinet Security Affairs Office and chief organizer of the event, expressed his concern about granting foreigners suffrage.
“I was infuriated when I heard of plans to submit to the Diet a government-sponsored bill giving foreign residents voting rights,” he said.
“Our Constitution grants those with Japanese nationality voting rights in return for their obligation to pay taxes,” he said. “Granting suffrage to those without Japanese nationality is clearly a mistake in national policy.”
Sassa also pointed out that 35 prefectures have adopted statements against granting foreigners suffrage, up from less than half that number in January.
“Our local governments clearly do not desire granting suffrage to foreigners,” he said.
DPJ heavyweights Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa are advocates of giving foreigners the right to vote at the local level, and the party has been preparing to craft the legislation it has been calling for since the party’s launch in 1998.
But the government scrapped a plan to submit the bill during the current Diet session after encountering fierce opposition from the financial services minister.
Taking the podium to a round of applause, Kamei emphasized his party’s role in preventing the government from submitting the bill to the Diet, and said that “it was obvious that granting suffrage will destroy Japan.”
Kamei, who has in the past argued that giving foreigners voting rights could incite nationalism during polling, went so far as to declare that his party would leave the ruling coalition if the government submitted the bill to the Diet.
Foreign nationals cannot vote in national or local elections, and changing the law has long been a controversial issue, particularly under the administrations of the LDP, whose conservative ranks have argued against granting suffrage, insisting that permanent foreign residents must first become naturalized citizens.
As of the end of 2008, 912,400 foreign nationals were registered with the government as permanent residents. Among them, 420,300 were special permanent residents, including Koreans and Taiwanese who lived in Japan before and during the war and were forced to take Japanese nationality, and their descendants. The remainder are general permanent residents.