According to the Public Offices Election Act, however, only persons registered as eligible voters on the Election Registration List could vote. Registration on that list was limited to Japanese over the age of twenty, who lived in the registering municipality and had been listed as residents on a Resident Registration List for more than three months. Those citizens who chose to reside abroad could not be registered on the Resident Registration List and were thus ineligible to vote. The absence of voting opportunities for Japanese living abroad was challenged as unreasonably discriminatory, violating protected equality rights, and unduly restrictive of their constitutionally guaranteed right to vote. In response to these criticisms, the Diet passed an amendment to the Public Offi ces Election Act in 1998, creating the Overseas Voters Registration List and enabling those who were on this list to vote in an election. However, this participation is limited to elections based on proportional representation in the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors and, therefore, is not extended to the elections of representatives and councillors in individual districts.
The cabinet decided to eliminate the limitation on overseas voters’ participation in district elections and submitted an amendment bill to the House of Representatives on March 7, 2006. The bill was passed on June 7, 2006. Japanese citizens living abroad will henceforth be able to participate in the elections in the districts where they resided before leaving the country. The amendment is also intended to ease the burdensome aspects of registration, even though the procedures for registering and voting remain complicated and inconvenient. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court’s decision will be a significant step toward securing the opportunity for those Japanese living abroad to participate in elections, although a lot more is needed to facilitate their actual participation.
Japanese nationals living abroad, who fulfil the following conditions and are registered on the electoral commission’s overseas voters’ list of the final place of residence in Japan can vote in general and parliamentary elections:
– Persons who have notified their town hall of a change in their location and of final residence in Japan;
– Persons who have been registered at the Japanese Embassy/Consulate as a Japanese citizen living abroad for at least three months (or those who can prove their residence over the past three months).
Shigenori Matsui, The voting rights of Japanese citizens living abroad, Oxford University Press and New York University School of Law, 2007, http://icon.oxfordjournals.org/content/5/2/332.full.pdf+html.
Japan Electoral System, Inter-Parliamentary Union, http://www.ipu.org/parline-e/reports/2161_b.htm.
Counting the overseas vote, The Japan Times, September 20, 2005, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2005/09/20/editorials/counting-the-overseas-vote/#.V3JmASxS2Uk