In the last 4·7 re-election, the voices of people raising the issue of foreigners’ right to vote in the mayor of Seoul increased sharply. Each election-related article was followed by comments such as’Why foreigners intervene in our politics’ and’We need to block foreigners’ right to vote.’
This is a relatively new phenomenon that has appeared since last year’s general election. In fact, on March 2, last year, a month before the general election, a post titled “Chinese permanent residents must deprive themselves of voting rights in local elections” was posted on the Blue House National Petition webpage, attracting 21,5646 people.
The Blue House replied to this petition with “the purpose of realizing the universality of democracy by allowing (foreigners) as local residents to participate in the process of forming basic political decisions in the community.” In addition, other countries such as New Zealand, Denmark, and the Netherlands that give foreign permanent residents the right to vote were cited as examples.
The number of foreigners who had the right to vote in the Seoul Mayor’s by-election was 38,226. It is 0.45% of the total number of electors, 84,25869. It is estimated that 80% of the electors are Chinese. In number, the right to vote by foreigners is not so critically influenced by the election results. However, some citizens who did not know that foreigners could participate in local elections are surprised.
It has already been 15 years since the right to vote for local elections was given to foreigners who lived for more than three years after obtaining permanent residence. Since the 2006 local elections, foreign permanent residents have cast votes. At the time, the news focused on the emotions of foreigners who voted for the first time in Korea. It was difficult to find criticism that foreigners intervene in the election of Korean local government leadership.
15 years have passed since such an issue has recently faced the opposite trend of public opinion. It is a public opinion that complains that most of the foreign voters are Chinese. Then, why did the National Assembly pass the law giving foreigners the right to vote in local elections in 2006? What was the atmosphere at the time different from now?
The task of’globalization’
The right to vote for foreigners’ local elections as a major issue was the 16th National Assembly (2000-2004) during the Kim Dae-jung administration that was first discussed in the National Assembly. In the new century, the Kim Dae-jung administration recognized’globalization’ as a task for the new millennium. Festivals with the theme of world culture continued across the country. TV shows featuring foreigners also started pouring out.
As the National Assembly responded to this, a number of bills in line with globalization were issued, one of which was the revision of the Public Official Election Act, which would give foreigners the right to vote for local elections. In May 2001, at the National Assembly’s Special Committee on Political Reform, the opposition parties agreed to give local elections to foreigners who have stayed in Korea for a long time. It was a dimension of responding to the trend of the 21st century and realizing the universality of democracy. In particular, the logic was that even foreigners pay local taxes and comply with their obligations, such as complying with autonomous laws and local governments’ decisions and orders, so that it is in line with the principle of democracy.
However, in February 2002, when this matter was raised to the National Assembly Legislative Judicial Committee, foreigners did not have the right to vote. The ruling and opposition lawmakers raged about the provisions of foreigners’ right to vote. At the time, New Millennium Democratic Party Rep. Cho Soon-hyung argued that it was unconstitutional under the first article of the Constitution, “The sovereignty of Korea rests with the people and all power comes from the people.” GNP lawmakers also agreed, and the clause was deleted.
Japan and Koreans in Japan
In the 17th National Assembly (2004~2008), discussions began again. However, the conclusion of the discussion was quite different. Instead of globalization and the rights of local residents, the word’Koreans in Japan’ appeared on the front.
In June 2005, the National Assembly Special Committee on Political Reform raised the rights of Koreans in Japan as a basis for giving foreigners the right to vote for local elections. At that time, there were an estimated 600,000 Koreans living in Japan. Among them, 400,000 permanent residents were estimated. One of the biggest challenges for Koreans residing in Japan was to get the right to vote for local elections in Japan, according to the Korean National Corps of Japan (Mindan), an organization representing Koreans in Japan. To this end, it was the logic of the Jung Gae Special Commission that Korea should change the election laws first and then persuade the Japanese government.
However, this also encountered opposition at first. In June 2005, at the Subcommittee on Legislation of the Unification Foreign Affairs and Trade Commission, the then GNP Rep. Hong Joon-pyo said, “We will talk with Japan in advance and we will do it, so you should do it too. It’s difficult.” Regarding this, the ruling party at the time refuted that, “We are giving, but you are giving it, the purpose of opening it first in order to induce (the Japanese government) in such a way that you don’t give it.” At the time, the National Assembly was also at a time when the number of seats in the liberal group, including the ruling Uri Party, the Democratic Labor Party and the New Millennium Democratic Party, was a majority, so the public office election law was finally revised to establish a new local election for foreigners.
If so, did Japan give Koreans in Japan the right to vote for local elections as the National Assembly intended? In conclusion, it is not.
In Japan, the discussion itself was faster than ours. In February 1995, the Supreme Court of Japan ruled that “granting the right to vote for permanent residents of foreigners is not unconstitutional and is a matter of legislative policy.” Immediately after the ruling, discussions began in Japan to give foreigners the right to vote in local elections. However, the conservative Liberal Democratic Party said, “Rather, let’s revise the Nationality Act to ease the requirement for foreign permanent residents to naturalize to Japan. It is natural to naturalize foreigners and give them the right to vote.”
Maihara-cho, Shiga Prefecture, a small town in Japan, allowed 13 foreign permanent residents to vote for the first time in Japan at the referendum in March 2002, but foreigners have not yet participated in the election of the local government. Currently, Korea-Japan relations are also stiff, so it is difficult to know when this discussion can be brought up again.
Europe gives. But half.
What about other countries? First of all, in countries that have adopted a democratic electoral system, few have allowed foreigners to participate in the elections for the president and parliamentarians. However, in the case of voting rights for local elections, there are quite a few countries that have opened their doors to foreigners. In particular, the EU (European Union) stipulated through the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 that citizens of the EU have the right to vote in local elections and become candidates under the same conditions as citizens of that country, no matter where they live in any of the EU member cities. Furthermore, open Nordic countries such as Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and the Netherlands have opened this right to foreigners who are not affiliated with the EU.
Commonwealth countries, including the UK, Australia, New Zealand, India, and Canada, give each other the right to vote in local elections. They are grouped under the name’Commonwealth’, and they are diplomatically sticky beyond history and physical distance to the extent that there are also Olympics held by them.
In the United States, there are places where each state gives the right to vote in some local elections, but it is difficult to say that foreigners have the right to vote in local elections as a whole. In particular, the US immigration law is very strong, so foreigners can be deported if they vote by mistake or deliberately.
In the case of China and North Korea, there are seemingly elections, but it is difficult to say that they work as well as any other democratic country. Of course, it does not give foreigners the right to vote for local elections.
Half success, half failure
The purpose of the National Assembly’s decision to give foreigners the right to vote in local elections can be summarized in three ways. Globalization, the rights of local residents, and the acquisition of Japanese voting rights for Koreans in Japan. Looking at the current situation, it can be seen that out of the three objectives, only the part in which local resident rights were granted to foreigners was achieved. It is far from globalization as Chinese and Overseas Chinese are close to 90%, and many point out that the right to vote for Koreans in Japan has not been obtained from Japan.
In the mid-2000s, Belgium also suffered this kind of pain. Belgium changed its election laws in 2004 to give local elections for immigrants from Turkey or North Africa. The intention was to integrate them into Belgian society by giving them the right to elect local workers. However, when the local elections were held, the participation rate of foreigners was very low, and as conservative public opinion against foreigners’ right to vote grew stronger, only the conflict grew. The debate on the right to vote for foreigners for the purpose of integrating multicultural society faces the current of national nationalism and anti-globalization, and is in a difficult situation around the world.
Reporter Jeongbong Lee firstname.lastname@example.org
Video = Kim Ji-sun, Jung Soo-kyung PD, Kim Ji-hyun, Lee Ga-jin intern