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Permanent Residents Vote for the First Time in Unified Local Elections in South Korea

      On 31 May 2006, local elections took place throughout South Korea to elect provincial governors, city mayors and local parliamentarians. These were the first set of elections after the amendments to the Public Office Election Law in June 2005, which lowered the voting age from twenty to nineteen and recognized the right to vote for foreigners with permanent residential status.
      While generations of Chinese and other foreigners have lived in South Korea since the end of the 19th century, the country has maintained restrictive policies against foreigners in general and discrimination against Chinese residents. Treatment of foreign residents have been improved in the context of democratization and globalization, however. Consequently, Chinese residents who have lived in the country for five years and more were given permanent residential status in 2002.
      Actually, the right to vote is recognized for foreigners with permanent residential status and who have lived in the country for three years and more. As a result, the majority of some 6,700 eligible voters in the local elections were Chinese; according to Mainichi Shinbun, 51 of them were Japanese. The Korean society has witnessed the increase of foreign workers and international marriage; more than 480,000 foreigners were registered as residents at the end of the year 2004.
      On the other hand, more than 2 million foreigners currently live in Japan. At least 1.3 million of them, including some 460,000 Koreans (those who came from Japan's former colonial territories and their descendents) with special permanent residential status, are said to be based in Japan. Campaigns for local suffrage for foreign residents have been conducted, led by Koreans who have continued to live in Japan after the end of the World War II. Japanese and Korean residents in Japan gave a big momentum to the realization of local suffrage for foreigners in South Korea. As a result of some lawsuits, instituted in 1990s to demand local suffrage for foreigners in Japan, the Supreme Court found in February 1995 that "the Constitution [of Japan] does not prohibit recognition of the right to vote for permanent residents and other foreigners who have close relationship with local municipalities". Although the Bill to Recognize the Right to Vote for Permanent Residents was submitted to the Diet for the first time in 1998, no progress has been made until today.

· First Suffrage for Foreigners in Asia, Mainichi Shinbun (26 May 2006) (Japanese)
· Article in the Hankyoreh (Korean)

See also: Featured Articles. Sixty Years since the End of the World War II - Present and the Future. Part 2: The Situation of Korean Residents in Japan and the Future of the Japan - Korea Relationship, Kokusai Jinken Hiroba (published by HURIGHTS OSAKA), No.62 (July 2005) (Japanese)