The term of Japan's lower house members is set to officially end on Oct. 21, less than a month away. At present the focus of attention is on the upcoming leadership election to replace Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga as head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). However, it is the House of Representatives election set to take place this fall during which the voting Japanese public will deliver a verdict on the current state of politics.
With an aim to encourage people to vote, a project has been commenced by a group of social activists. The initiative, which sets the goal of raising Japan's voter turnout to 75%, focuses on tackling the low voter turnout especially among Japan's younger generations by calling on them to go to the polls.
The project's executive committee was launched by eight leaders of organizations addressing social problems involving young people, livelihood support for children, and other issues. Among them is Yumiko Watanabe, board chairperson of Kidsdoor, an incorporated nonprofit organization that offers academic assistance for children from poor families.
Single-parent families and other households have been placed in harsh situations amid the coronavirus pandemic. Watanabe and others have been urging political parties to strengthen livelihood support for those in need, but felt that the parties have been "slow to act." Watanabe speculates that the low voter turnout among the young and the workforce has something to do with this.
The turnout for national elections has been on the decline in recent years. Although voter turnout for the 2009 House of Representatives election reached 69%, the last two elections saw a turnout hovering around the lower 50s. The voter turnout for the previous House of Councillors election in 2019 was below the halfway mark at just 49%.
Voting among the young is severely low in particular, with turnout standing at 34% for people in their 20s, compared to 72% for those in their 60s -- more than double -- in the previous lower house poll in 2017.
If young people continue to shift away from voting while the country's declining birth rate accelerates, the proportion of votes cast by young people among the total ballots will further diminish.
Among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries, Japan spends one of the lowest percentages of gross domestic product (GDP) on public education. Low turnout among young electors runs the risk of fueling the tendency to belittle younger people in policymaking.
The target of achieving a 75% turnout means that three out of four electors must go to polls. This poses a high hurdle.
Nevertheless, the project has made some headway. Its committee conducted an online survey asking young people about policies they value, and got back some 45,000 responses. The survey seemed to especially catch the interest of women. There may have been many people who realized that their lives were not something unrelated to politics.
At the same time, it has been predicted that campaigning for the lower house election will be restricted due to anti-infection measures. Therefore, there have been concerns over turnout.
The general election taking place for the first time in four years is now around the corner, and the central and local governments of Japan should engage in efforts to raise public interest in elections, without leaving the job to the private sector.