A government panel that is expected to lower the voting age to 18 held their first meeting Thursday.

The panel of top ministry officials has been tasked with the job of reviewing and updating more than 100 laws, including the Public Offices Election Law.

The Diet enacted a law Monday that establishes the procedures for holding a national referendum on constitutional amendments. It states that all citizens 18 years old and older can participate in such votes.

However, the voting age is currently 20, the same for buying alcohol and tobacco.

The new referendum law’s supplementary provisions state that changes to related laws — including election and civil laws — will be considered before the bill takes effect on May 19, 2010.

“I personally believe that the country should lower the age of qualified voters so that young people can become emotionally independent,” an aide to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on condition of anonymity.

However, he said the age for drinking and smoking must be kept at 20.

“We have to thoroughly discuss whether to revise these laws so that there will be no mistake and objection,” said Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Junzo Matoba, who heads the committee.

Matoba said that other than the minimum age for voting, the panel likely will discuss whether to lower the age for participants in the lay judge system, which will begin in 2009.

The voting age in most developed nations is 18.

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