Voting Rights for 18 Year Olds
post date : 2015.07.17
Vol. 7 July 17, 2015
Asahi: Lower voting age welcome, but politics remains unappealing
Sankei: Opportunity for youth to think about the nation
Nikkei: 18-year-old voting rights a chance to change Japanese politics
Mainichi: Encourage youths to participate in politics
Yomiuri: Youth political participation must be promoted with lowering of voting age
On June 17, a bill was passed to revise the Public Offices Election Law, which will lower the minimum voting age from 20 to 18. About 2.4 million people will become newly eligible to vote in the upper house election next summer.
This is the first revision to the minimum voting age in 70 years, since it was lowered from 25 to 20 in 1945. The number of countries setting the minimum voting age at 18 is overwhelmingly high, constituting 90 percent of all nations in the world.
This change in the voting age will be in line with the lowering in 2018 of the voting age to 18 for national referendums on constitutional revisions, following a revision to the constitutional referendum law last year. Similarly, the advisability of lowering the age of majority in the Civil Code (20 and over) and the ages covered by the Juvenile Law (under 20) is also being considered.
The Mainichi Shimbun discussed the lowering of the voting age in its editorial on June 17, while the editorials of The Asahi Shimbun, The Sankei Shimbun and Yomiuri Shimbun took up the subject on June 18. The Nihon Keizai Shimbun (Nikkei) carried an editorial on the issue on June 19.
All the editorials broadly welcomed the revisions, with The Yomiuri saying: “Such young people will account for a mere 2 percent of all voters nationwide. However, the electoral participation of high school students and other members of this age group may induce important changes in society.”
However, with The Mainichi saying “It is not true that politicians proactively took action to lower the minimum voting age in response to calls for expanding the right to participate in politics, as was the case in the introduction of the universal voting right and guaranteeing women the right to vote and run for public office,” and The Asahi likewise saying “Extending the parliamentary franchise to younger people would be meaningless if the step only ends up increasing the number of voters who don’t go to the polls,” the point was made that the lowered voting age is only an opportunity, and what is important is whether or not people will actually vote.
At the same time, however, all the papers agreed that there are many challenges to take on, including the provision of a good amount of education for high school students on what it takes to be a participant in Japanese sovereignty.
■ “Silver democracy”
While the ratio of elder voters is increasing with the advent of a graying society with a low birthrate, more and more young people are turning their back on elections, as shown in the low voter turnout rate of 32.58 % for people in their 20s in the last House of Representatives election held last year.
Political parties, therefore, tend to give preferential treatments to the aged, with policies for young people, such as employment and child-rearing support measures, taking a backseat. It remains to be seen if the change in the voting age will remedy the ill effects from this so-called “silver democracy”—in which voices of the aged are more easily reflected in politics—and help realize policies in favor of the generations that will play key roles in society for decades to come.
To realize such change, it is essential for more young people to actually vote and proactively participate in politics, the national newspapers agree.
The Nikkei said a rise in the voter turnout rate of young people could trigger change in the awareness of the aged. “To ease ill effects from silver democracy, senior citizens must think not only about themselves but also about future generations,” the economic daily said. “If they found out that the voter turnout rate among the youth was unexpectedly higher, more and more elderly people would think ‘Young people are seriously thinking about this nation.’
The Yomiuri mentioned that the massive budget deficit and increased social security costs from a graying population will place a major burden on future generations. The editorial also encouraged political participation by the newly-eligible voters, saying how young people should be aware of the importance of voting in order to influence local and national government policies.
In order to preserve Japan’s strength as a nation amidst a rapidly-changing international society, The Sankei states that “Citizens will have to show more ingenuity, and put in more effort.” The paper also mentioned its hopes for young people, saying “By welcoming the 18 and 19 year olds as adult members, the nation will become able to infuse their sensitivity and energy into nation building and revitalization of regional economies. We hope young people will acquire interests in wide-ranging areas that go beyond their personal lives, such as national defense and regional welfare, and get involved in politics through voting.”
■ Encouraging young people to participate in politics
Then, how can this nation prod more young people to go to the polls and, thereby, infuse much-needed vigor into politics?
The five dailies said it is essential to improve education provided to young people about their role as sovereigns in this democratic society.
“In anticipation of the lowering of the voting age to 18, high schools across the nation have already been taking measures to introduce voter education into their curriculums, such as conducting simulated elections,” The Asahi said. “It is important to encourage students to discuss politics and democracy with their friends at school and urge each other to go to the polls. Their first experiences of taking part in politics in their teenage years will continue to be useful even as they grow older.”
Challenges lie ahead, however, when such education is provided at school. As The Yomiuri describes, “Due chiefly to the repercussions of antagonism between the education ministry and the Japan Teachers’ Union, it has long been considered taboo to go deeply into politics and current events in a school curriculum.”
The Mainichi stressed that “Schools must not discourage students from discussing specific policy measures under the name of political neutrality.” In fleshing out its argument, the newspaper said: “Respecting different views and deepening their opinions on various issues through debate will help students learn of the rules of democracy… Forming consensus among members of the general public to permit children to discuss politics at schools is of utmost importance.”
The Nikkei also said: “To attract interest from high school students, schools must deal with the reality of politics to a certain extent. It would be good for them to compare manifestos of major political parties and conduct debates based on such comparisons.” The newspaper, however, stressed that political neutrality in education is important by saying “care should be taken not to benefit specific political forces when promoting such education.”
The Yomiuri and The Sankei are more alarmed by the possible imposition of certain political parties’ values on students.
“Schools will now be required to help students acquire the ability to properly understand campaign promises, as well as the policies of parties and candidates, while retaining political neutrality,” The Yomiuri said. “To avoid imposing the values of specific political parties on students, it is vital to systematically train the teachers in charge and to compile manuals.”
The Sankei argued as follows: “We would like to point out once again that teachers belonging to the Japan Teachers’ Union and other organizations imposing certain political opinions on students at school will impair democracy and is, therefore, intolerable.”
■ Efforts by the political world
Some newspapers pointed out that in addition to education efforts, political parties and politicians should also address issues regarding the participation of young voters.
“More than anything else, politics itself needs to become something that can pique the interests of young people,” The Asahi said, adding that revisions to the Public Offices Election Act, with its numerous restrictions, should also be considered. “There should also be efforts on the political front to lower the wall between politics and voters in general, not just young people.”
The Mainichi urged political parties to promote policy making geared toward young people. “Political parties have come under mounting pressure to work out policy measures that appeal to younger generations as the population is decreasing and aging,” the paper said.
The Yomiuri, The Mainichi and The Nikkei are urging discussion about increasing the number of young candidates by lowering the ages of eligibility to run in elections—30 for upper house candidates and prefectural governors; 25 for heads of local government, excluding governorship, and for local assembly members—“from the standpoint of enabling young people’s opinions to be better reflected in politics” as The Yomiuri puts it.
*English translations of The Yomiuri, The Asahi and The Mainichi are from The Japan News, The Asia & Japan Watch and The Mainichi, respectively. Those for The Nikkei and The Sankei are provisional. The content of this page was made by Foreign Press Center Japan and does not reflect the opinion of the Japanese Government or any other organization.