Japan lowers minimum voting age for constitutional referendums to 18

Kyodo, Staff Report

The minimum voting age in national referendums to amend the Constitution was lowered to 18 from 20 on Thursday as part of a series of moves to encourage civic participation by young people.

The lowering of the voting age for referendums brings it into line with the voting age for elections, which was similarly lowered in 2016 to 18 years.

The Diet had already passed a law to lower the age of adulthood from 20 to 18 from April 2022.

The changes will likely require political parties to cater to a wider voter base, as observers say many have tended to focus on the elderly, who have a higher turnout rate than their younger compatriots.

Media exit polls conducted after the Upper House election in July 2016, the first time 18- and 19-year-olds were allowed to vote, showed that a majority of those in their 20s or younger voted for the Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner Komeito. The result doesn’t necessarily reflect their active support for the ruling coalition, experts said, but rather their wish to stick to the status quo.

With voter apathy in recent elections more prevalent among young voters than the middle-aged and elderly, Japan faces a challenge in getting more young people involved in the political process.

The constitutional referendum law, the revised version of which came into force on June 20, 2014, stipulated that Japanese nationals aged 20 or older can cast votes in referendums and that the minimum age to vote will be set at 18 by 2018.

While Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been eager to revise the war-renouncing Article 9 of the postwar Constitution, the prospects for holding the country’s first referendum on constitutional amendment remain dim, with little parliamentary discussion on the issue in recent months.

The LDP discussed a revision of Article 9 in March. One of the party’s draft proposals said the Constitution should be amended to say that the Self-Defense Forces shall be maintained “as an armed organization” for Japan to take “necessary self-defense measures.”

But the LDP has yet to hold full-fledged talks with other parties over its proposal amid a standoff between the ruling and opposition parties in the wake of a series of scandals linked to the Abe administration.

Amending the Constitution requires approval by two-thirds majorities in both chambers of the Diet, followed by majority support in a national vote.