An Internet campaign directed at young voters played a significant role in Barack Obama’s election in 2008 as president of the United States.
But unlike other developed countries, Japanese law forbids candidates from using the Internet during election campaigns, whether it’s updating their websites or even tweeting their names.
Hoping to change this situation by the next general election, young voters gathered in Nagata-cho Wednesday evening for the first meeting of the group One Voice Campaign, launched earlier this month.
“I think the way politicians send out information through street oratory or posters and how we access that information are out of date,” said Self-Defense Forces member-turned-freelance writer Shintaro Eguchi, 27, who founded the group with 26-year-old Kensuke Harada, who started the student group iVote, which seeks to raise turnout among young voters.
“I always felt (young voters’) voices don’t reach politicians under the current system,” Eguchi said.
The group aims to collect 30,000 online signatures through social media such as Facebook and Twitter by Sunday. Nearly 13,000 had been collected as of 2 p.m. Thursday.
Election law prevents politicians from using online media — because they are regarded as “texts and pictures” — once the election schedule is officially announced. In fact, voters are technically prohibited from commenting on candidates on Twitter during the campaign.
But, advocates say, the Internet can increase the interaction between candidates and voters and reduce costs. The government shoulders some of the ¥80 billion cost of Lower House election campaigns, including the cost of printing thousands of postcards, fliers and posters.
For the past decade, the Democratic Party of Japan has tried to change the rules, submitting a bill to the Diet to revise the law four times since 1998. The party campaigned on a promise to lift the ban on Internet use for the 2009 general election, which brought the DPJ to power for the first time.
In 2010, the DPJ and its opposition rivals, the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, agreed on a bill to allow Internet usage, but it failed to get submitted to the Diet before the Upper House election that summer after Yukio Hatoyama stepped down as prime minister.
But seven Diet members who attended the One Voice Campaign meeting promised to do their best to submit a bill to revise the election law before the current Diet recesses at the end of next month.
“(The bill) has to pass during the current Diet session, otherwise it will be too late for the next Lower House election,” said Toshiro Ishii, the DPJ lawmaker in charge of the bill in 2010.
The terms of lawmakers in both the Lower and Upper houses will end in summer 2013.
Ishii claims the issue has not been resolved because the DPJ and opposition parties have placed priority on fixing the vote disparity in Lower House elections. They have yet to reach agreement on a plan.
“I know (fixing the vote disparity) has nothing to do with this issue, but this is why politicians can’t make any decisions,” Ishii said.
The DPJ’s Kan Suzuki said change can be made “if the issue becomes the priority among the public and mass media so that it has to be discussed in the Diet.” No lawmakers are openly against lifting the ban.
Eguchi of One Voice Campaign said he hopes to change how voters participate in politics. “We launched (the group), hoping it will be an opportunity to change society.”
The group will post updates on any progress in the Diet based on regular calls to the seven lawmakers, Harada said.