Amid growing anti-China sentiment in the nation, some South Koreans are calling for foreign permanent residents’ right to vote to be abolished because a majority of them are Chinese.
On April 28, a petition was posted on the website of presidential Blue House with the title of “Foreigners’ voting rights (location election) are unconstitutional. It has to be abolished.”
The writer of the post said, “(We) respect and don’t discriminate against foreigners. However, the right to vote is the unique right of the people of Korea.”
“Chinese nationals own 80 percent of foreign voting rights. This opens the door to China’s intervention in the Korean election, which is likely to be involved in presidential and parliamentary elections,” the writer added, although foreign nationals are not allowed to vote in presidential or legislative elections as the right is limited to elections for local authorities.
In less than two weeks, more than 43,000 people signed up to the petition.
Since 2006, foreigners have had the right to vote in local elections if they have been permanent residents for three years or more. At the time, there was no public opinion against foreigners’ suffrage.
However, a series of historical distortions by China, and lawmaker Kwon Young-se’s release of data showing that 80 percent of foreign voters are Chinese nationals have fueled a debate on the issue.
In March last year, a petition titled “Chinese permanent residents should be deprived of their right to vote in local elections” was also posted on the bulletin board of Cheong Wa Dae, winning the consent of more than 210,000 people.
According to the Ministry of Justice, a total of 162,690 registered foreigners owned permanent residency as of March 31, of whom 121,806 were aged 18 or older and three years after obtaining permanent residency.
Among them, the number of Chinese nationals stood at 95,385, accounting for 78.3 percent. It was followed by Taiwanese (9 percent), Japanese (5.9 percent), Vietnamese (1.1 percent) and Americans (0.8 percent).
But it is not clear how many people of the eligible voters actually vote. Currently, the National Election Commission and the Ministry of Public Administration and Security have not disclosed the number of foreign voters by nationality.
In most countries, the right to vote is generally limited to citizens of the country and in some countries voting rights are extended to resident non-citizens.
According to a report published by private research center Multiculture & Peace Institute in 2014, 45 countries have granted migrants minimum suffrage worldwide.
In the UK, foreign residents from Ireland and some Commonwealth citizens were given voting rights, while EU nationals resident in the UK can vote in local elections. In the European Union, the 1992 Maastricht Treaty imposed reciprocity inside the EU concerning voting rights in local elections.
In the case of Korea’s neighboring countries, China and Japan, voting rights are not granted even if migrants have obtained permanent residency.
By Shin Ji-hye (firstname.lastname@example.org