Internet election campaigning bill clears hurdle

by Ayako Mie

Staff Writer

A Lower House committee working to revise the Public Offices Election Law on Thursday unanimously approved a bill to drop a ban on the use of the Internet during poll campaigns, a significant step toward modernizing the system before voters cast their ballots for Upper House candidates in July.

The bill, sponsored by the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc as well as Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), is likely to be passed into law by the end of this month after clearing both chambers. The Lower House is set to vote on the bill Friday, after which it will be sent to the Upper House.

The aim of the deregulation is to encourage more open and robust political discussions by allowing political parties and candidates, as well as voters, to interact through websites and blogs. Social-networking services, including Facebook or Twitter, will also no longer be banned.

The revision opens the door for political parties — but not candidates or voters — to exploit paid ads. Candidates will also be able to express their thanks online to supporters after an election.

Although the revision to the 1950 law is significant, it stops short of sweeping changes, such as permitting voters, and not just parties and candidates, to send out emails asking for support, as proposed by the Democratic Party of Japan and Your Party. In the end, both the ruling and opposition camps agreed to revisit the issue after the Upper House poll.