Political parties gear up outreach campaigns to win over Japan’s newest voters


Political parties are making greater efforts to approach the 18- and 19-year-olds who will be voting for the first time in this summer’s Upper House election.

The Upper House race will be the first national election after the voting age is lowered from 20 to 18 on June 19. The change will add an estimated 2.4 million people to the electorate.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s official newsletter published Dec. 15 stressed policy responses to young voters on its front page, under the headlines “Promoting youngsters’ participation in politics” and “Task force set up for voting age cut to 18.”

In November, the LDP Youth Division started an initiative called the Real Youth Project and held a debate session Dec. 7 with a student-led youth council that works to have the voices of young people heard by politicians.

“We tend to focus on discussions about immediate challenges, such as pensions and road construction,” Hideki Makihara, director of the division, said at the meeting. “We want to change the nature of politics into one that looks 20, 30 and 50 years ahead. We want you to give us a supportive push.”

His remarks appeared to recognize the LDP’s traditional emphasis on policy measures geared for the elderly, such as pensions and nursing care.

The Youth Division plans to send lawmakers to university events and set up student divisions at its local chapters across Japan, other than the 14 that already exist.

Komeito, the junior partner in the LDP-led ruling coalition, has also started efforts to attract young voters, including a meeting to exchange views with a group of young people.

The party is considering a survey to ask young people about the policy measures they want and to reflect their opinions in its policy pledges, officials said.

The main opposition Democratic Party of Japan believes that young people’s interest in politics received a major boost by the turbulent Diet proceedings over the enactment of the security legislation last autumn.

The DPJ puts priority on collaboration with Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy, or SEALDs, the student group that rose to prominence during the fight over the controversial legislation.

The initiative reflects the party’s hope to ride on the tailwind of popular opinion critical of the legislation.

In other policy areas, the DPJ plans to set up a scholarship system reform project to lead discussions on problems with the current system.

The party has also inaugurated a “DPJ high school,” where party executives answer questions on politics from high school students.

In the first class, held Dec. 23 in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, DPJ Secretary-General Yukio Edano told participants in their teens and 20s: “To ensure that you are happy tomorrow, you need to exercise your (voting) rights.”

Using the Internet to reach out to young people, the Japanese Communist Party has played up its proposal to establish a grand coalition with other opposition parties to oust the LDP from power.

The JCP has taken up the issue of “black” companies with sweatshop-like working environments or inadequate wages for part timers in an attempt to attract the attention of young people.

Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party) is working on a proposal to set up a student division as an internal section of the party.

Osaka Ishin no Kai is discussing plans to hold a forum for dialogue between young people and party executives, including its leader, Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui.