The current Upper House contest is the first election campaign in which the Internet is being used to convey political parties’ and candidates’ messages to voters — thanks to a revision of the Public Offices Election Law.
The revised law allows political parties and candidates to use e-mail, Facebook and Twitter, and voters to use Facebook and Twitter. Voters can show their support for specific candidates or criticize them, and send questions to parties and candidates.
So far, however, political parties and candidates are far more active online than voters. Voters should try to use the Internet more in the election campaign to ask questions and become better informed before they cast their votes so that it doesn’t end up as a medium for one-way communication by political parties and candidates. Voters should remember that the Internet is for two-way communication when it comes to election campaigns.
After the election campaign officially kicked off on July 4, political parties and candidate began to widely use Twitter to publicize their messages to voters, including video clips, relevant URLs and photos. Although Twitter’s text has a limit of 140 letters, it has made it easy to disseminate campaign information.
What is worrisome about the coming Upper House election is that voters do not appear to be very interested in it, although it centers on such important issue as constitutional revision, energy policy including nuclear power and Japan’s entry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade scheme. Its outcome will have a great impact on Japan’s future.
The results of surveys and their own observations have led some political party officials to express fears that voter turnout may drop below 50 percent. The 1995 Upper House election registered a record low turnout for postwar years at just 44.52 percent. The Upper House election in July 2010 saw a voter turnout rate of 57.92 percent. The voter turnout for the Lower House Election in December 2012 was 59.32 percent, a postwar low for Lower House elections.
Political parties and candidates should try to use the Internet in effective ways to attract more voters to the ballot box. Unfortunately many messages sent by political parties and candidates over Twitter through the Internet read like a diary, telling what they did that day and how street audiences reacted to their speeches. They should talk more about policy-related matters and tell how their policies will affect voters’ lives. For their part, voters should ask candidates concrete questions via Facebook and Twitter, and not hesitate to express their views on policies of political parties. For their part, candidates should strive to sincerely answer voters’ questions.
Japan has long lagged behind other developed countries in the use of the Internet for campaigning. It is our hope that the revised election law will strengthen Japanese democracy by boosting the public’s participation in the political process.