The House of Representatives passed a bill on Thursday to lower the minimum voting age to 18 from 20, paving the way for the first change in the country’s voting age in 70 years.
With the change, some 2.4 million 18- and 19-year-olds will get their first chance to vote in next year’s House of Councilors election.
The revision to the Public Offices Election Law is expected to be enacted as early as June 17, after deliberations in the Upper House.
The amendment also includes a provision to send minors to public prosecutors in cases of serious crimes against electoral laws that compromise the fairness of elections.
People ages 18 and 19 will also be able to sit on the electoral management committees that oversee elections.
It’s considered important to give youth greater representation in policymaking decisions such as snowballing social security costs, which are placing an increasing burden on younger generations as the population ages.
But concerns remain over their political participation, given the generally low voter turnout rate of younger generations. In last December’s House of Representatives election, turnout for voters in their 20s was 32.6 percent, less than half the 68.3 percent of those in their 60s.
In a bid to raise awareness of changes to the election law, the education and internal affairs ministries decided in March to create and distribute teaching materials about the election system to high schools this summer.
The changes come after a revised national referendum law took effect in June 2014, which will lower the minimum age to vote on a constitutional amendments to 18 from 20 in 2018. Amending the Constitution is a long-held goal of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The latest bill was initially submitted to the extraordinary Diet session last fall, but was subsequently scrapped due to a sudden dissolution of the Lower House in November. The bill was re-submitted to the Diet in March jointly by six parties, including the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the largest opposition entity, the Democratic Party of Japan.
The voting age was last changed in 1945, when it was lowered from 25 to 20.
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