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Category: Steps Towards 2025

Today, (June 22, 2016) Japan is expected to announce a revision of the voting age to 18 from 20 and this will be applied in the upcoming House of Councillors scheduled for July 10 this year. Voting age is a minimum age established by law that a person must attain to be eligible to vote in a public election.

This is the first expansion of the right to vote in Japan in the last 71 years since universal suffrage was established in the nation in 1945. It is estimated that this expansion will enfranchise about 2.4 million 18- and 19-year-olds representing about 2 percent of all eligible voters.

A compilation by ACE Project (www.aceproject.org) of voting ages in national elections in 239 countries and territories shows that 208 (87%) have 18 years as the official minimum voting age. Surprisingly only North Korea has 19 years as the voting age. Four countries have pegged it at 20 years while seven countries have it at 21 years which also happens to be the highest in the world. The statistics also show that three countries put the voting age at 17 and that the lowest voting age is 16 in eight countries. It should also be mentioned that Taiwan is taking steps to reduce the voting age to 18 from 20.

Governments establish voting thresholds because they consider that younger ones lack the capacity to make informed voting decisions. The voting age is often of such importance that it is set by means of a constitutional provision.

Before the Second World War, almost all countries had voting ages of 21 or higher. Czechoslovakia was early to act, reducing its age to 18 in 1946, and by 1968 a total of 17 states had moved the same direction. A large number of countries reduced their voting ages to 18 during the 1970s. This was premised on the argument that those who attained 18 could be conscripted into the army to go to war. So many people felt they should be able to vote.

At the turn of the Millennium, debate has ensued in a number of countries to consider whether the voting age ought to be reduced further with 16 coming out as the magic number.

In Malawi the voting age is 18 but sometimes debate has always arisen whether the voting age should be revised. It has been argued why should a “child” who is less than 18 but with two children, or is heading a family, or is working and contributing to taxes or is in university not be allowed to vote? Can such “children” not have the capacity to choose a leader of their choice? In Malawi a child can marry at 18 and with parental consent at 16 or 17. The law on child labour is clear anyone below age of 16 is a child and cannot be employed. So if someone can be legally employed, earn a salary and eke out a living, cannot they make a choice in vote? Of course such persons still remain juveniles under the current laws.

Also, although without backing statistics, there are increasing cases of 15, 16, 17-year olds making it to the university. True. If someone managed to pass MSCE can they not make a decision to choose a leader?

These are some of the questions that have been coming up and it is up to Malawians to provide the answers and this is the time. Come May 2019 only those who will have clocked 18 years by the polling day will be eligible to register and vote.

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