From Hokkaido to Okinawa Prefecture, 1,504 candidates are campaigning for the 480 seats up for grabs in Sunday’s Lower House election.
During the 12-day campaigning period, which officially began last Tuesday, the candidates must strictly follow the rules stipulated by the Public Offices Election Law.
The problem is that some of the rules seem outdated or too rigid, while others — including the ban on campaigning online — can look somewhat ridiculous to outsiders.
What are the main taboos in the law and why do they exist? This week’s FYI takes a look at some of the rules affecting Japanese candidates and their campaigns.
What’s the purpose of the law and what is written in it?
The law stipulates how members of the Diet and local assemblies are chosen, who can run and who is eligible to vote. It also specifies the nationwide campaign periods and the tools the candidates can use to appeal to voters during that time.
The rules are strict and aimed at limiting election costs and securing a fair outcome.
The official campaign period for a Lower House election is 12 days, while the Upper House and gubernatorial elections last 17 days.
What acts does it ban?
Bribery for one.
If a candidate’s campaign or finance officers are involved, both the violator and the candidate will be punished.
The candidate, if victorious, will lose his or her seat and, in some cases, be deprived of the right to vote or run for office for a set time thereafter.
In the same vein, wining and dining is also forbidden, and campaign staff are careful to not even provide soft drinks or snacks to people who visit their campaign offices.
Even serving a bottle of tea may be interpreted as giving “favors.” Thus, most supporters these days bring their own drinks and snacks when visiting a candidate’s office, writes Kazuo Maeda, a coauthor of “Senkyo no Uragawatte Konnani Omoshiroinda! Supesharu” (What Goes on Behind Election Campaigns is Really Interesting! Special).
Visiting homes and businesses to seek votes or to ask people not to vote for rivals is also a big no-no. The same goes for making visits to homes and businesses to inform people that a candidate is holding a speech.
How many violations have been reported?
According to the Association for Promoting Fair Elections, about 570 people were arrested for different kinds of alleged violations during the previous general election in 2009.
Why is campaigning over the Internet outlawed?
Under the election law, only certain types of designated “election campaigns” are allowed during the official period, but these do not include politicking conducted over the Internet.
Thus, the updating of candidates’ Twitter, Facebook and other website accounts during a campaign is generally banned under the law, which has drawn criticism from many young politicians and voters.
However, regular “political activities” that do not promote or criticize particular candidates are allowed even on the Net, which leaves gray zones as to what politicians can and cannot do during official campaigning.
Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, founder and deputy leader of Nippon Ishin no Kai, was criticized for continuing to tweet after the campaign began. Is he breaking the law?
On Dec. 5, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said that Hashimoto’s tweets could be construed as a campaign violation, depending on the content, but left the matter to the authorities.
On Friday, Hashimoto discussed over Twitter how to strengthen Japan’s international competitiveness by teaching children English, saying that boosting public works will not help it.
For some, this tweet could be interpreted as implicit criticism of the Liberal Democratic Party’s election pledge to boost public works by forcing the Bank of Japan to buy construction bonds. But it’s a bit ambiguous.
Is there a limit to the amount of money a candidate can use?
Article 194 of the law stipulates the upper limit, and no candidate can use more than this amount during the campaign.
For a candidate running for a Lower House single-seat constituency, the upper limit is ¥19.1 million plus ¥15 multiplied by the number of voters in the constituency where the candidate is running. Thus, the higher the number of voters in the constituency, the higher the limit becomes.
But the law only sets the amount for individual candidates, and there is virtually no limit for a political party. Thus, pundits say the system still works to the advantage of those candidates with a party affiliation and punishes independents.
Is there anybody who is not allowed to campaign for a candidate?
Some people are prohibited to avoid conflicts of interest. These include public servants, such as police officers, prosecutors and public school teachers, in addition to election administration officials.
Minors are also not allowed to campaign, but they can help in such ways as putting up posters and distributing fliers.
People who have been convicted of violating the Public Offices Election Law or the Political Funds Control Law, and thus disenfranchised, are also not allowed to campaign.
Muneo Suzuki, who heads New Party Daichi, cannot ask the public to vote for his party’s candidates because he is in the process of being disenfranchised because of a bribery conviction.
There seems to be a lot of loudspeaker campaign trucks in Japan. Does the law govern how candidates can use them?
Candidates running for the Lower House election can only use one vehicle, which can have only four people, excluding the driver, aboard.
Candidates are not allowed to give speeches while the vehicle is moving, which means they are mostly confined to greeting passersby, repeating candidates’ names and waving.
When it comes to the loudspeakers, however, there is no regulation on volume, which means candidates can be as loud and annoying as they want.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s website on elections says that “although it is true that the name touting can be loud and annoying, the candidates are doing their best within the scope of the law to ask for the support of the voters.”
Using loudspeaker trucks to belt out candidates’ names is allowed from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Is it true there are limits to the number of posters and fliers one can print and distribute?
Yes. For example, a Lower House candidate in Tokyo is entitled to print and distribute 35,000 postcards and up to 70,000 fliers bearing his or her name and photograph and paid for by the election committee.
Political parties can also print a set amount of postcards and fliers but must pay for them out of party funds. Although they will not be allowed to write candidates’ names on them, they will still provide advantages for candidates with party affiliation.
Have there been any attempts to change the law to allow for use of the Internet?
At least four times since 1998, the Democratic Party of Japan has sent the Diet a bill to revise the election law, but it never moved forward.
In 2010, both the DPJ and the opposition agreed on revising the law to allow the use of websites and blogs during the campaign period, but the bill failed to progress due to Yukio Hatoyama’s resignation as prime minister, which brought the Diet to a halt.
The Weekly FYI appears Tuesdays. Readers are encouraged to send ideas, questions and opinions to firstname.lastname@example.org