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Bill to lower referendum voting age submitted to Lower House

by Ayako Mie

Staff Writer

The ruling and opposition parties on Tuesday jointly submitted a bill to the Lower House to lower the age from which people can vote in a referendum to 18, a step forward in achieving Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s long-held goal of revising the Constitution.

The current referendum law was enacted in 2007 under Abe’s first government to rectify a situation where there is no detailed process to hold a national referendum.

Under the bill submitted by a total of seven parties, the voting age involving a referendum to revise the Constitution will be lowered to 18 from the current 20 four years after the revised law takes effect.

With the exception of police officers and judges, the bill will allow public servants to engage in political activities. It also says the government will consider expanding the purpose of a national referendum to items other than just the Constitution.

Article 96 of the Constitution requires approval from two-thirds of lawmakers in both chambers to put any constitutional revisions to a national referendum, but it lacks details on how such a ballot will be held.

The 2007 law created a number of provisions, one of which was a requirement that it needs more than 100 Lower House lawmakers and 50 Upper House lawmakers to submit a bill for any constitutional revision to the Diet.

A provisional clause of the 2007 law said no referendum will be held unless three issues are addressed: Lowering the current voting age, allowing public servants to participate in political activities, and expanding the scope what a national referendum can cover beyond just constitutional revisions.

The latest bill stopped short of deciding if civil servants’ labor unions can launch political campaigns, reflecting protests from the opposition Japan Restoration Party (Nippon Ishin no Kai).

It also did not detail what can be put to a national referendum other than the issue of constitutional amendments.

The bill was submitted by the Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner New Komeito, and the opposition parties Democratic Party of Japan, Ishin no Kai, Your Party, Yui no To and People’s Life Party.

After the revised law takes effect, the ruling and opposition parties will debate whether to also lower the general voting age to 18 in line with that for a referendum, as well as consider changing the legal age of adulthood from the current 20 to 18, according to the bill.

The submission of the bill signifies another political gain for Abe and the LDP, whose goal is to revise the national charter drafted by U.S.-led Occupation forces after World War II.

The LDP has already drafted its own version of the Constitution, which includes a revision to the war-renouncing Article 9 to specify the Self-Defense Forces as Japan’s military and set up a military tribunal.

Still, it remains to be seen if enactment of the revised law will immediately create momentum for a constitutional revision.

Even within the ruling coalition, the LDP’s junior coalition partner New Komeito is cautious about re-interpreting Article 9 to allow Japan to exercise the right to collective-self defense, let alone revising the article itself.