A bill to revise the Public Offices Election Law, lowering the voting age from 20 to 18, was passed unanimously at a plenary session of the House of Councillors on Wednesday morning. The new voting age is scheduled to go into effect in summer next year.
The change will be the first time in 70 years that the nation's voting age has been lowered. The previous time was in 1945, just after the end of World War II, when the age was lowered from 25 to 20.
The revised law will be promulgated by the end of this week at the earliest and enacted a year later. It is likely that the new voting age will be put in force ahead of a House of Councillors election to be held in summer next year.
The number of individuals who will become eligible to vote at age 18 or 19 through the legal revision is about 2.4 million, accounting for about 2 percent of all voters in the nation.
The Yomiuri Shimbun In addition to elections for the House of Representatives and the upper house, the new voting age will also be applied to elections for local government heads and local assembly members.
If minors, under 20 but over 18, commit serious election law violations, such as vote buying, they will face the same level of legal punishment as those for adults, an exception to the Juvenile Law.
The term of upper house members whose seats are to be contested next year expires on July 25 next year. If next year's ordinary Diet session convenes in late January, as has previously been the case, and the session is not extended, three sets of dates are possible for the upper house election.
In one, the election would be announced on June 23 and voting held on July 10. The second scenario would be an announcement on June 30 and voting held on July 17. In the third case, the election would be announced on July 7 and the voting held on July 24.
The revised law stipulates that a voting age of 18 will be applied from the first national election to be held after the enactment.
The new voting age will be applied for elections of local government heads and local assemblies after the national election.
To have the new voting age applied for the next upper house election, the government will promulgate the revised law as soon as possible and enact it after spending a year raising public awareness about the change in the voting age.
The bill to revise the law was jointly submitted by six parties in both the ruling and opposition camps in March.
When a revision to a law for national referendums was passed in June last year, lowering the minimum age of eligibility for voting in national referendums was considered preferable to amending the Constitution to state ages 18 or over.
The ruling and opposition parties discussed how to make the general voting age consistent. In other parts of the world, a voting age of 18 or over is generally standard.
A supplement to the revised law includes a clause to encourage reviews of other laws with age thresholds set at 20. They include the Civil Code, which stipulates that those aged 20 or above are adults, and the Juvenile Law, which classifies those under 20 as minors.
The supplement says, "Consideration will be made and necessary legislative actions will be taken."
Engaging younger generations
The current revision of the Public Offices Election Law makes third-year high school students who have turned 18 eligible to vote in elections.
Measures to encourage youths to participate in political affairs more proactively should be taken using the lowering of the voting age as an opportunity.
Turnout among young people has been extremely low. In the lower house election late last year, the turnout among voters in their 20s was 32.58 percent, which was much lower than the overall average of 52.66 percent.
If the election process is made more accessible but only in a formal sense, the legal revisions will not be effective unless young people go to polling stations to cast their ballots.
The opinions of generations who will shoulder the burden from fiscal deficits and the pension system in the future should be reflected more in politics.
It is essential for political parties to make efforts to cultivate interest among young people, and for schools to improve their curriculum for this purpose.