Japanese parliament permit use of Internet campaigning during elections

This Friday 19th May, after long and careful deliberation, both houses of Japan’s National Diet approved and passed a bill that will allow parliamentary candidates to use the Internet as part of their electoral campaign.

The bill was passed earlier this month by the House of Representatives (Japan’s Lower House) and was passed into law – with a unanimous vote – by the House of Councillors (the Upper House) today. It is hoped that the motion will lead to stronger and less superficial interaction between candidates and their prospective voters, and will stand its first test during the upcoming House of Councillors elections this July.

This lifting of the pre-existing ban on internet campaigning and revising of the Public Offices Election Law is no small bill amendment. Future electoral campaigns will allow political parties and candidates to use websites, blogs, online advertisements and banners, as well as social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to market themselves to potential voters.

The deregulation is largely seen as a benefit to parties, and will be particularly beneficial to newer, unknown candidates who lack the huge amounts of money so often required to promote their ideas. Through the use of online campaigns, smaller parties will be able to instigate detailed debates with their electorate and form a closer relationship with their voters and would-be voters, returning the main focus of politics to the parties’ ideas and viewpoints, rather than their rich and powerful campaign schemes. Kan Suzuki, an Upper House lawmaker of the Democratic Party of Japan, is of this view, saying “National elections in Japan are all about how much you can sell your name. But this revision will benefit candidates who can truly engage in more vigorous policy debates.”

The revision to the Public Offices Election Law is not without its restrictions. The law prohibits the use of false identities, and, in an attempt to curb spam email, states that email can still only be used to send electronic messages to seek electoral support, and the question of email usage by voters will not be debated until the next Lower House election.,

Failure to abide by these rules, which will be applied in both local and national elections, will result in up to two years in prison or a fine of up to 500,000yen (or £3,300).

As well as giving smaller parties a chance to be heard and emphasising the importance of thorough debate with the electorate, it seems that lawmakers also pushed for the deregulation out of concern for younger voters – or the apparent lack of them. Japanese youth are perceived as being seemingly apathetic towards elections and politics in general, and it is hoped that this reform to the Election Law – which coincides quite neatly with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s recent declaration that he wishes to lower the voting age from 20 to 18 – will inspire the youngest generation of voters to involve themselves in government issues and, crucially, increase the voter turnout at future elections. “This could lead to the creation of a political environment in which young voters and many others enhance their interest in politics,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga on Friday.

Sources include The Japan Times, The Japan Daily Press

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