Minimum voting age in Japan dropped to 18

TOKYO - About 2.4 million 18 and 19-year-olds now have the right to cast ballots.

Japan's minimum voting age was lowered from 20 to 18 on Sunday with the enforcement of the revised Public Offices Election Law.

Set to be officially announced Wednesday, the upcoming House of Councillors election will be the first national application of the revision. Voting and ballot-counting for the election are scheduled for July 10.

This is the first expansion of the right to vote in the 71 years since universal suffrage was established in the nation in 1945.

About 2.4 million 18- and 19-year-olds newly have the right to cast ballots. As the minimum voting age is commonly set at 18 overseas, Japan has now conformed to the global standard.

Newly enfranchised voters in the upper house election must have been born before July 11, 1998, and are estimated to account for about 2 per cent of all eligible voters.

The new minimum voting age will also be applicable to local elections whose official announcements come after the official announcement of the upper house election. A mayoral election will be announced for Ukiha, Fukuoka Prefecture, on June 26, and one for Hino, Shiga Prefecture, on June 28.

If at least two candidates run in these elections, voting will take place on July 3 for both elections. The mayoral elections will thus likely be the first opportunities for 18 and 19- year-olds to cast their ballots.

The revised election law also allows local governments to set up polling stations at railway stations and commercial facilities so that eligible voters can cast their ballots at places other than designated polling stations. Local governments also can extend voting hours for early voting by advancing the opening of polling stations by as much as two hours and delaying the closing by up to two hours.

Drinking, smoking unchanged

Besides obtaining the right to vote, 18- and 19-year-olds will also become qualified to take part in such procedures as the national review of Supreme Court justices and referendums to recall local assemblies.

The national review of top court justices is held in tandem only with House of Representatives elections. Justices can be recalled if a majority of the valid votes support a recall, but no justice has ever been recalled.

Local assemblies will be dissolved if a majority of votes are cast for dissolution in a referendum.

However, there are a number of regulations in which the minimum age remains unchanged at 20, including the age to serve as a lay judge and on a prosecution inquest committee.

Lay judges decide guilt or innocence as well as sentences together with ordinary judges in criminal cases, while citizen members of prosecution inquest committees examine the propriety of decisions made by prosecutors not to indict. As 18 and 19-year-olds are subject to protective measures under the Juvenile Law, it is considered inappropriate to let them make decisions in criminal cases.

The minimum legal age for drinking and smoking also remains at 20.