A bill that could grant suffrage to the young over 18 years old (currently 20 years old) is on the agenda of the current Diet session. It was presented by lawmakers to revise the Election Law. Certainly the bill will be enacted in the session and the law will be applied as early as in 2016 summer when the election for the House of Councilors is scheduled. The number of new voters counts 2.4 million. Problems, however, are left unsolved.
DEEPER CONSIDERTION, MORE ELABORATE AND PRUDENT DEBATES ARE NECESSARY
Legislators of six political parties, excluding the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the Communist Party (JCP), presented a bill to revise the election law. A SDP leader says: ‘some people insist that the bill in question relates to the controversial arguments on amending the Constitution, but apart from that, the SDP favors lowering eligibility age to 18 years old’. The JCP will make a decision after parliamentary debates.
A public opinion survey held by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper shows 48% of the contestants say ‘Yes’, while 39%, ‘No’ (dated March 7). The Constitution guarantees universal suffrage to adult citizens. Definition of a grown-up citizen ? how old is he/she in the Japanese society? The theme is familiar and significant. Careful debates are needed as the issue potentially triggers enormous changes in the state affairs and the society.
Participation of Youth in Politics
A proposal to lower qualification age has emerged after 70 years of absence. Elections are not restricted to those to choose state-level politicians: elections for mayors, governors and assembly members of local communities and for examination of judges of the Supreme Court as well as referenda to recall top leaders of municipalities. In Scotland recently voters older than 16 years of age took part in the referendum on independence. As for Japan, in the plebiscite held in Yonaguni-cho, Okinawa, on deployment of the Self Defense Forces in the island, local students of junior high schools participated as the eligible age was set to include these young inhabitants.
Let’s look at the international community. In 167 countries voting right is given to those older than 18 years of age. Young people have opportunities to participate and get interested in the national politics.
However, the bill presented at the moment in Japan closely links with a law, the Act on Referendum to Amend the Constitution, which stipulates the right shall be given to those older than 18 years. This point cannot be overlooked because a strong intention of political forces works behind the developments in order to rewrite the constitution.
In the United States, the issue of voting right appeared in the height of the war in Vietnam: an argument that it is unjust to force citizens to fight for a country without giving them any political voice. The age requirement was lowered to 18. The issue closely connected with the draft system.
If the age is lowered to 18 in Japan, young people are required to understand people’s sovereignty, respect for the fundamental human rights and the Constitution based on pacifism. But educational surroundings are not ready to cope with the change.
On the contrary, young legislators from the Liberal Democratic Party are to revise the Special Act for Public Workers in Education Sector so that high school teachers may be penalized if they involve in ‘illegal political activities’. The politicians believe that lectures in the classrooms may affect on attitudes of young voters. A secret plan is contemplated in the introduction of suffrage for 18-year-olds; a policy of the government to speedily impose the ministry-programmed curricula so that the nation could mobilize youth through school education with an objective to wage wars abroad.
An Adult Citizen ? How old is he/she?
Arguments on an adult citizen are held in terms of the Civil Code and the Juveniles Act. If the age requirement for an adult citizen changes, 191 laws, 40 ordinances and 77 ministerial acts must be amended. According to surveys conducted by the Asahi Shimbun, as for the Civil Code, 43% of the contestants replied ‘Yes’ for lowering the age of an adult citizen, while 44% said ‘No’. As for the Juveniles Act, 81% favored, while 18% rejected. A striking difference is found.
Discussions on 18-year-olds involve in essential questions how the society should be. Cautious debates are necessary.
April 14, 2015