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NGO Report to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination Submitted by Japan NGO Coalition against Racial Discrimination Series No.6 Political Right and Local Suffrage for Foreign Residents


5. Political Right and Local Suffrage for Foreign Residents
(1) Relevant Article of ICERD and statement of the Government report
- Article 1-2 of ICERD
- Paragraph 146 of the Government Report (CERD/C/JPN/10-11)
(2) Main Points
(a) Not to give local suffrage to foreign residents is not a breach of International
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).
Regarding political rights and local suffrage in Japan, the relationship between
Japanese nationals and foreign residents is equivalent to the one between citizens
and non-citizens as stated below in Article 1-2. Therefore, it is not discrimination.
Article 1-2. This Convention shall not apply to distinctions, restrictions or
preferences made by a State Party to this Convention between citizens and
(b) In Japan any person is eligible to acquire Japanese nationality, regardless of race,
color of skin, genealogy or racial or ethnic origin. There exists no discrimination in
the acquisition of nationality.
(c) In Japan, as soon as a person acquires nationality, all political rights are given to
him/her. This is the most advanced and impartial system in the world.
(3) Background
(a) The Constitution of Japan does not allow foreign residents local suffrage.
The assertion made by those who promote to give foreign residents local suffrage is
full of fallacies. The greatest ground for their assertion is Article 93 Section-2 of the
Constitution of Japan, which states that “the residents of local government bodies
shall directly elect officials of each local government body.” They maintain: “From
this provision, the meaning of ‘residents’ here is not thus limited to persons who hold
Japanese nationality.”
However, this interpretation of the Constitution is wrong. This Constitution was
promulgated in 1946, less than a year after Japan was defeated in World War II. The
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Japanese Archipelagoes was rendered scorched land. At that time, residents in Japan
from former colonial countries, mainly two-million Koreans, hoped to return to their
newly independent homeland. None of them thought of using suffrage in Japan.
“Residents of local government bodies” stated in Article 93 Section-2 does not at all
suppose that foreigners are included. The true meaning of Section-2 is “the residents
not of other local governments but Japanese residents residing in that local
government shall elect officials of that local government.” Namely, residents of a
certain local government are not eligible to elect officials of other local government.
(b) The Supreme Court decision does not allow foreign residents to use local suffrage.
Those who promote local suffrage for foreign residents also rely on the Supreme
Court decision dated February 28, 1995, made in the legal action concerning the
election of a local government by “special permanent residents” of Korean residents
in Japan who were born in Japan and have established their lives in Japanese society:
“It can be reasonably concluded that the Constitution does not prohibit the
implementation of measures to grant by law the right to vote in elections of the
chief executive officers of a local government bodies, the members of the assemblies,
and such other local officials to permanent residents and others who are deemed to
have an exceptionally close relationship with a local government of a place of
residence among foreign residents in Japan in order to reflect their wills onto the
public operations of the local government which has a close relationship with their
daily lives. However, it is exclusively a matter of the legislative policy of the
government to decide whether such measures should be taken, and the failure to
take such measures does not cause the issue of unconstitutionality.”
However, their assertion is false and sophistic. In 1990, “special permanent
residents” of Korean residents in Japan filed opposition to each of the electoral
administrative committees of Osaka City, asking election committees to register them
on the electoral roster, based on Article 24 of the Public Offices Election Act. The
electoral administrative committees turned down this opposition and in November
1990, Korean residents in Japan filed a law suit at the Osaka District Court, asking
the decision of turndown to be cancelled. As a result, on June 29, 1993, plaintiff ’s claim
was rejected, On February 28, 1995, the Supreme Court turned down the appeal. The
main part of the verdict is as follows:
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“The Constitution stipulates, based on the principle of the people’s sovereignty, that
the right to ultimately decide appointment and dismissal of officials lies in the
people. It is stipulated in the Preamble and Article 1 of the Constitution that
sovereignty rests on “Japanese nationals”. The people as stated in terms of the
principle of the people’s sovereignty clearly means Japanese nationals or the people
with Japanese nationality. In this context, the stipulation of Article 15 Section-1 of
the Constitution, which guarantees the right to elect and discharge officials, applies,
in the nature of the right, strictly to Japanese nationals, and it is reasonable to
interpret that the guarantee of the right abovementioned does not extend to foreign
residents in Japan.” (underlined by the author)
(c) It is a universal fact that suffrage is the people’s proper right. In addition, it is
easy to acquire nationality in Japan.
As mentioned before, it is clearly stated in the Constitution and the verdict of the
Supreme Court that suffrage including local one is proper to the people. This is the
same of the United States, China, Russia and many other countries. In Germany and
France, suffrage is mutually admitted only within the EU countries, but not in
relations with countries outside the EU.
In Japan, moreover, the acquisition of nationality is a very easy process and every
year several thousand people apply for Japanese nationality, of whom 95% or more
are accepted and acquire nationality. There are only six conditions necessary for the
acquisition as stated below:
The Nationality Law Article5. (*1)
i. Having continuously had a domicile in Japan for five years or more;
ii. Being twenty years of age or more and having the capacity to act according to
his/her national law;
iii. Being a person of good conduct;
iv. Being able to make a living through his/her own assets or abilities, or through
those of a spouse or of another relative his/her making a living with;
v. Not having a nationality or having to give up his/her nationality due to the
acquisition of Japanese nationality; and
vi. On or after the date of promulgation of the Constitution of Japan, not having
planned or advocated the destruction of the Constitution of Japan or the
government established thereunder with force, and not having formed or
joined a political party or other organization planning or advocating the same.
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Moreover, in Japan, as soon as a person acquires Japanese nationality, he/she is fully
eligible to use all the political rights. For instance, he/she can run for Diet and hold
any public office. In fact, there are several cases of those who became Diet members
shortly after the acquisition of Japanese nationality.
(4) Conclusions
It is not at all discriminative not to give suffrage to foreign residents in Japan. If
only a person acquires the nationality, he/she can use all political rights.
Report by NGO “Research Group on Political Rights”
(*1) The Nationality Law