The Universal (Male) Suffrage Act
As the Diet considered, and ultimately rejected, the repeal of Law 63 and the establishment of self rule in Taiwan, Japan’s liberal political parties advocated for the passage of universal male suffrage.
In 1925, after years of piecemeal expansions, the Diet passed the Universal Suffrage Act. The act opened the franchise to all male residents of the inner territory who were at least 25 and had been at their place of residence for at least a year. In practice, these qualifications — age, gender, length of residence — left the majority of the inner territory’s residents disenfranchised. As the Asahi newspaper editorial board complained, “The question of universal suffrage has not been answered or solved by this action” (Asahi 1925, quoted in Lu 1996). Despite the title “universal,” only about twenty percent of Japanese residents of the inner territory were eligible to vote. The numbers were even lower for Korean residents of the inner territory. Between 1928 and 1937, roughly ten percent of Korean residents were eligible (Matsuda 1995, 36-37).
In theory, however, the Universal Suffrage Act represented a radical rethinking of the distribution of political power in the Japanese Empire. Wealth no longer determined the distribution of voting rights; place did. The act opened up elections in the metropole to non-Japanese candidates, and in some districts forced Japanese candidates to appeal to non-Japanese voters, particularly to Koreans (Fujitani 2011, 23-24; Matsuda 1995). For this reason, the act also elicited the ire of Japanese residents of Korea and Manchuria, who were excluded from the expansion of the franchise (Uchida 2011, 273; O'Dwyer 2015, 216-18).