A bill to permit the use of the Internet during election campaigns was passed into law by the Upper House on Friday, clearing the way for more robust online interaction between candidates and voters, beginning with July’s House of Councilors poll.
The revision to the Public Offices Election Law will allow political parties and candidates to electioneer online by updating their home pages or blogs and using social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter to post comments, among other things.
The deregulation could revolutionize the nation’s stodgy political system, especially for unknown candidates who lack a powerful election machine because online campaigns will enable them to instigate more detailed debates with the electorate, scrutinize the campaign platforms of their opponents and rebut any slanderous accusations without the need for mountains of cash.
With an eye on this summer’s Upper House election, political parties are already upgrading their online campaign strategies.
“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,” said Kan Suzuki, an Upper House lawmaker of the Democratic Party of Japan who is seeking re-election in the upcoming poll.
Yet the amendment still left room for improvement, as it curtails the use of email. The law will only permit political parties and candidates to send electronic messages to seek electoral support, shelving the issue of email usage by voters until the next Lower House election in an attempt to prevent spam email.
Voters found to have violated these rules could face two years in prison or a fine of up to ¥500,000, while a malicious offender could be stripped of the right to run for public office or even to vote.
Because of the severity of the penalties, both the ruling and opposition camps are compiling more detailed guidelines to prevent candidates and voters from breaching the revised law.
To prevent the posting of slanderous comments through identity theft, the law will require any blogs launched after the start of election campaigns to provide contact information. It also encourages parties and candidates to employ the email certification system to detect false messages.
Voters will also be forbidden from forwarding email received from political parties or candidates.
But given the recent cyber-riddler case that baffled police, it is unclear how well the new campaigning rules will be enforced.