Japan lowers voting age to 18

Move extends franchise to 2.4m teens, with parties eyeing new voters' support

TOKYO - Japan passed legislation to lower the voting age to 18 from the current 20 years on Wednesday, allowing teenagers into polling booths for the first time.

The move will bring Japan - where political power resides firmly with the burgeoning older generations - into line with other developed countries and will extend the franchise to an extra 2.4 million 18- and 19-year-olds. These young people are expected to cast their first votes in the Upper House elections scheduled for summer next year, unless the Lower House is dissolved for snap elections before then.

The Bill to revise the public office election law passed the Upper House after being approved in the lower chamber.

Japan last changed its voting rules in the punch-drunk months after its 1945 surrender in World War II, altering the age at which citizens could cast their ballots from 25 to 20.

Around a quarter of Japan's 127 million population are aged 65 or over, a result of low birth rates over the last few decades and no significant immigration.

The proportion is expected to grow to around 40 per cent in a few decades. The inverted age pyramid that this represents - combined with a Confucian respect for elders - has left Japan a country primarily run by, and for the benefit of, old people.

Both the main ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the biggest opposition group, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), backed the change in the hope of gaining more support from new voters.

"Originally, the DPJ wanted to lower the age limit because the party thought it could get more votes from the younger generation for its centre-left policies," said politics professor Mari Miura of Sophia University in Tokyo. "Now, some politicians think young people might actually be less liberal and more conservative, and the initiative this time comes from the LDP."

In the last general election in December, more than 68 per cent of Japanese in their 60s voted, compared with about 33 per cent of those in their 20s, according to estimates by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. The overall turnout rate slumped to a post-war low and the polls were won by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's LDP.

Another example of the power of the elderly vote came last month when a proposal for local government reform in Osaka was abandoned after it was voted down in a public referendum. The rejection came despite the fact that residents in all age groups except those age 70 or over had voted in favour, according to an exit poll by the Asahi newspaper and TV Asahi.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 18, 2015, with the headline 'Japan lowers voting age to 18'. Subscribe