Japan Lowers Voting Age to 18 Amid ‘Silver’ Surge at the Polls

Japan’s upper house approved a bill lowering the voting age to 18 from 20 on Wednesday, a move unlikely to lessen the dominance of the “silver” vote in one of Asia’s most-rapidly aging countries.

The change will add about 2.4 million people to the almost 104 million who were eligible to vote in the December general election. The new law is likely to take effect in time for an upper house election scheduled for 2016.

The views of younger Japanese are barely reflected in politics, as they are increasingly outnumbered by the swelling ranks of their elders and because they are less likely to vote. Nonetheless, both the main ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the biggest opposition group, the Democratic Party of Japan, backed today’s change in the hope of gaining more support from new voters.

“Originally the DPJ wanted to lower the age limit because they thought they could get more votes from the younger generation for their center-left policies,” said Mari Miura, a politics professor at Sophia University in Tokyo. “Now, some politicians think young people might actually be less liberal and more conservative and the initiative this time comes from the LDP.”

Japan has one of the world’s longest life expectancies, combined with a low birthrate. More than a quarter of the population is age 65 or over.

In the last general election in December, more than 68 percent of Japanese in their 60s voted, compared with about 33 percent of those in their 20s, according to estimates by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. The overall turnout rate slumped to a postwar low and the election was won by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s LDP.

Another example of the power of the elderly vote came last month when a proposal for local government reform in Osaka was abandoned after it was voted down in a public referendum. The rejection came despite the fact that residents in all age groups except those age 70 or over had voted in favor, according to an exit poll by the Asahi newspaper and TV Asahi.

Lena Kuramochi, 17, of Tokyo, said she wasn’t sure she would vote after turning 18 and questioned the logic of the age change. “It’s not a good idea -- it will increase the participation of people who aren’t well informed,” she said.

The LDP and other major parties are discussing how to educate young people about politics and encourage participation in elections.

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