For high school student Aine Suzuki, the Lower House’s move on Thursday to pass legislation that would reduce the voting age to 18 from the current 20 was akin to a dream come true. The 16-year-old says she has always yearned for the right to vote — so much so that whenever an election is approaching she scours newspapers and TV shows to decide which candidate she would vote for, were she eligible to do so. In only two years — Suzuki said with excitement — her opinion will count at the ballot box. “I hope the lowered voting age will encourage more young people to pay attention to politics and make efforts to get their messages across. Only then can Japan turn into a real democracy,” said Suzuki, who is the youngest member of a pro-democracy youth group called Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy (SEALDs).
The move to lower the voting age — the first in 70 years — gives an estimated 2.4 million people aged 18 and 19 suffrage at both the national and municipal level. They will get their first chance to vote next summer, when an Upper House election is slated to take place.
In a nation where the voices of the elderly tend to be prioritized by politicians over those of young voters, politically active students like Suzuki herald an opportunity to empower youths in society. Some even welcome it as a chance to put an end to what they call a “silver democracy.”