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Shinzo Abe’s Least Controversial Political Reform

By Jasper Tolsma

SNA (Tokyo) — Since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took to power for the second time in December 2012, many of his bills have been met by skepticism from politicians and the public alike. One of Prime Minister Abe’s least controversial reforms, however, is the plan to lower the legal voting age from 20 to 18 years. Backed by both the coalition Komeito Party and most opposition parties, including the Democratic Party of Japan, Abe’s plan could become the first change to the legal voting age since it was lowered from 25 to 20 years in 1945 and put Japan on par with most Western countries, of which about 90% have a legal voting age of 18 years.

Politics, however, remain an uninteresting subject to both the young and the not so young in Japan. Voter turnout for last year’s snap elections came in at only barely above the 50% mark.

According to statistics published by the Association for Promoting Fair Elections, an organization that keeps track of voter turnout, this trend isn’t confined to just the last elections either: In the last two decades voter turnout has never crossed the 70% mark.

When looking at the voter turnout by age, the signs are even clearer that, especially amongst millennials, interest in voting is very low at best. In the age category of 20-24 year olds, only 35% percent bothered to turn up to last year’s elections.

The SNA went out on the streets to ask the public their thoughts on the proposal to lower the voting age.

Yoshitake Utsunomiya, 21, was completely unaware of the proposal: “Really? Are they going to lower the voting age? Maybe it is a good thing for young people who want to vote, but I didn’t go voting myself last year, even though I was allowed to for the first time. I don’t think it will make much of a difference.”

His friend and classmate, Kana Akita, agreed: “As students we don’t have any connection to politicians and other people who have a high position in society, so I don’t feel like I can change much. I didn’t vote either. Maybe I’ll wait until I graduate.”

A positive opinion on lowering the voting age was offered by Ayumi Ishikawa. At age 43, she isn’t directly affected by the law, but still thinks of it as a good idea: “A lot of decisions that politicians make affect young people. That’s why I think it is important for their future to vote. When I have time, I always go vote myself.”

Lowering the voting age to 18 will create about 2.4 million potential new voters, but on current form it is not likely to have a positive effect on voter turnout rates.

Jasper Tolsma is a contributing writer to the Shingetsu News Agency.

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