The recurring debate over how much of a say non-Japanese residents should have in the country’s political process is flaring up once again, amid Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s drive to attract more foreign workers to the country’s shores ahead of the Tokyo Summer Olympics in 2020. In the latest controversial move, Abe’s Cabinet discouraged local governments from passing an ordinance that would give non-Japanese residents a right to vote in municipal referendums. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party had previously distributed a brochure in 2011 urging its local chapters not to pass such an ordinance, after party members became alarmed at the increasing number of municipalities across the country that had introduced — on a permanent basis — non-Japanese-inclusive polling systems as a means of reflecting the public will. The LDP said it had advised its prefectural chapters in June once again to abide by that earlier recommendation.
The ruling party says that more inclusive local-level voting rights give non-Japanese citizens an unduly generous say in the nation’s politics, and point out that this may violate the Constitution by undermining the principle of sovereignty of the Japanese people.
“(This may be happening) at local levels, but there is a financial burden shouldered by the central government, and we have to consider the interest of Japanese taxpayers across the country,” said LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba last month. “I do not think local municipalities can do whatever they want.”