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Monday, June 1, 2009

Foreign residents call for local voting rights

Staff writer

Hundreds of foreign permanent residents, mostly Koreans who came to Japan before or during World War II and their descendants, urged the government Sunday to give them the right to vote in local elections so their voices can be heard.

Sunday marked the third anniversary of South Korea giving foreign permanent residents the vote in local elections, and activists here said it is now Japan's turn.

"We foreign permanent residents would like to convey our opinions, but because we don't have local suffrage, it is very hard for us to make problems we are facing known to authorities in our hometowns," Kim Jong Soo, head of the Korean Youth Association, told a meeting in Tokyo's Ginza district.

Kim Boong Ang of the Organization of United Korean Youth in Japan pointed out that a bill now in the Diet to revise the immigration law, which has been drawing strong protests from foreign residents and human rights groups, would be a huge burden for foreigners due to its stricter management system.

Under the proposed revision, new "zairyu" (residency) cards would replace the current alien registration cards. Failure to carry the card or report any change in status could lead to a fine of up to ¥200,000.

Kim Boong Ang said the bill does not reflect the voice of foreigners, and lawmakers are moving too quickly on it despite the strong opposition.

He admitted it is unclear whether giving foreigners the right to vote in local elections would affect this sort of bill because it is a matter of national-level politics, but granting local suffrage would mean that Japanese society is not willing to ignore them.

Representatives of four political parties attended the meeting.

"Japan has become an aging society, so it is very important to the nation's development that more foreigners come to Japan," said Yuichiro Uozumi, deputy secretary general of New Komeito.

"We think giving local suffrage to (foreign permanent residents) is a keystone for that," he said.

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The Japan Times

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