Posted by debito on June 11th, 2010
Hi Blog. Kansai Scene magazine has an interview with me in its latest issue, in addition to a writeup about the NJ PR Suffrage issue. Pick up a copy if you’re in the area. More of what I’ve written about the suffrage issue on Debito.org here. Arudou Debito in Sapporo
Here is the interview in full, to keep the text online searchable:
On May 8, 2010, at 3:32 PM, Kansai Scene wrote:
Many, many thanks for the swift response. My questions for you are as follows.
1) To my knowledge, the number of Special Permanent Residents and Regular Permanent Residents is large enough to make up decent-sized voting blocs in only very, very few places in Japan. It’s cynical question, but why do you think the Democratic Party of Japan would take up an issue this contentious, given that there seems to be little tangible benefit for them, even if they do succeed?
I’m not sure. Like with so many policies, the DPJ has been pretty poor in further justifying their policies in the face of blowback. Rumor has it that shadow leader Ichiro Ozawa is tight with South Korea and the Zainichi Japan-born ethnic Korean residents. But that’s essentially a rumor. Perhaps it is just seen as the right thing to do for these people, even if it meant the loss of political capital. However, the prioritizing (there were other policies in the DPJ Manifesto they could have accumulated political capital with first) and the fact that the opposition dominated the debate (where were the cabinet ministers, or even Finn-born Marutei Tsurunen, who should have stepped up and counterargued?) meant right-wing alarmism shouted down the issue. Shame. Poorly-run campaign.
2) Commentors on one message board (Japan Today) argued that if Zainichi Koreans weren’t willing to renounce their Korean citizenship, and naturalize, then they weren’t that particularly tied to Japan or its future, and didn’t deserve the right to any vote that would influence the same. Would you agree or disagree, and why?
I disagree. As I’ve written elsewhere, there are close to half a million Zainichi born and raised here, who have been paying Japanese taxes their entire lives. Moreover, their relatives were former citizens of the Japanese empire (brought here both by force and by the war economy), contributing to and even dying for our country. In just about any other developed nation, they would be citizens already; they once were. Given that I’ve known some Zainichi refused citizenship for things as petty as a speeding ticket, this entire debate tack is an insult to some very long-suffering people, in fact very tied to Japan and its future.
3) You wrote in your 2.2.10 Japan Times column that naturalizing as a means to gain the right to vote was “not that simple”, due to the amount of effort required. However, you also wrote of the “years and effort” necessary to meet PR qualifications. Given that naturalized Japanese and Permanent Residents have both completed fairly lengthy procedures – suggesting their dedication to staying in the country – why do you think they are looked at so differently as far as “foreigners in Japan who deserve the right to vote” goes?
Because PR residents and citizens are of course of legally different statuses. Citizens are not foreigners anymore. But given how difficult and arbitrary both nationality and PR procedure can be in Japan, and that plenty of other developed countries (see http://www.debito.org/?p=6209) have little problem granting long-term residents the right to vote in local elections, I will remain in support for local suffrage for any PRs in Japan.
4) Say, for example, that every foreigner in Japan were naturalized overnight, and could now vote freely in any election. How do you think the political landscape would change?
I think we’d have a lot less alarmism from the radical right, who at the moment are picking on non-Japanese because they are so disenfranchised in Japan. Politicians would have to appeal to non-Japanese residents too. But the question is moot. Few if any countries allow non-citizens the vote when they’re fresh off the boat. Qualifying lines are always drawn. I’ll say PR is a good place to draw. In any case, with non-Japanese only 1.7% of the total population, I don’t see any major revolutions or devolutions resulting. People feared the same when women were granted suffrage after WWII. Have you ever seen a proportional rise in women representatives?
5) The issue itself now seems fairly dead in the water (at least for the time being). Do you think that PR in Japan will ever receive the right to vote? Why or why not?
I think they will. I just have no idea when right now. But I’m by nature a hopeful person.
6) Finally, do you yourself vote? And, do you have any plans whatsoever to run for political office, as did Jon Heese of Ibaraki Prefecture?
Of course I vote. I enjoy ballot boxing in Japan. No hanging chads here. Very sensible procedure. As for political office, it’s an entertaining thought…