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Thursday, June 8, 2006

Japanese expats can now vote for specific candidates

Staff writer

The Diet enacted a law Wednesday allowing Japanese living overseas to vote for individual candidates in national elections.

The law to amend the Public Offices Election Law was passed unanimously by the House of Councilors.

Eligible voters abroad had been prohibited from voting in Diet elections in both proportional representation and constituency elections.

In 1998, the law was revised to allow expatriates to vote in the proportional representation system for House of Representatives and House of Councilors elections.

Proportional representation allows voters to cast ballots only for political parties, not for individual candidates.

The government had always said providing expats with the necessary information, including the names and policies of the individual candidates, would be difficult.

But the Supreme Court ruled last September the system was unconstitutional and said modern communications systems are more than adequate to transmit such information.

"I'm really happy. We finally did it," Hiromitsu Tamai, a 64-year-old tour guide who represents the Hawaii branch of the Japanese Overseas Voters Association, said by telephone.

According to the internal affairs ministry, an estimated 759,400 of 1.01 million expatriates were of voting age as of October 2005.

Tamai has been campaigning for the change for 10 years. He started a petition drive in Hawaii in 1996, collecting 1,000 signatures.

"People living in a foreign country feel that they are, in one way or another, representatives of Japan," said Tamai, who has lived in the United States for 34 years. The first national election to be held under the revised law is likely to be for the Upper House next year.

Under the new system, expats will be able to vote for candidates running in the district where they last lived.

Japanese citizens who have never lived in Japan will be able to vote for candidates in the area where their domicile origin is registered, according to the legislation.

Under the current system, the government is required by law to publicize the names, policy platforms and other information of individual candidates by distributing bulletins to each household.

Under the new legislation, the government is considering publicizing election information by sending electronic files to embassies, which will print them out and post them in public. Publicizing Internet links to Web sites containing the information is another possibility, an internal affairs ministry official said.

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The Japan Times

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