Washington International Law Journal


Miles E. Hawks


Throughout the world, the dominant suffrage model has been voting rights based on citizenship. However, the trend of globalization, the increase of cross-border migration, and the advent of supranational institutions such as the European Union have prompted many countries to reconsider the relationship between nationality and voting rights. This has resulted in a growing trend, beginning in Europe and spreading most recently to South Korea, of adopting a notion of suffrage based on residency and community rather than citizenship. Japan is currently considering legislation, known as the “Local Suffrage Bill,” which would allow permanent resident aliens (“PRAs”) to vote in local elections. The Constitution of Japan grants the right to vote solely to Japanese nationals. However, Japan has an ever-increasing PRA population and a growing interest in alien suffrage. While there is opposition to the movement, the Japanese Supreme Court has held that granting suffrage to PRAs on a subnational level is constitutional. In 2004, the New Komeitō, a member of Japan’s ruling coalition, resubmitted its 2000 Local Suffrage Bill to the Diet. Passage of the bill would allow Japan’s PRAs to more fully participate in Japanese society and would have an impact beyond simply following the global trend in alien suffrage. With Japan facing a looming social security crisis that necessitates a sustainable influx of foreign laborers, an alien suffrage bill could encourage long-term migration and help ensure Japan’s continued economic success.

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