Let campaigning join digital age

Momentum has increased in the Diet to allow use of the Internet during election campaigns. The ruling and opposition parties are now engaged in consultation over the matter.

These days, most politicians have Web sites and issue e-mail newsletters to inform people of their opinions and activities. Nonetheless, the Public Offices Election Law restricts use of the Internet during election campaigns. Once an election campaign has officially kicked off, the Internet cannot be employed as a medium for informing people of a candidate’s latest activities. While the law allows the use of postcards and flyers during campaigns, it prohibits the updating of political Web sites and transmission of e-mail to appeal for voter support for candidates or parties. The internal affairs ministry says that Twitter campaigns are also illegal.

But there is a loophole. After the campaign for the Aug. 30, 2009, Lower House election had officially begun, some parties’ Web sites were updated with video footage of or articles about candidates’ public speeches, claiming that the material merely depicted politicians’ ordinary political activities, and did not specifically relate to the election campaign.

While in opposition, the Democratic Party of Japan on several occasions submitted a bill to allow the use of the Internet during election campaigns, but it fell through each time. The Liberal Democratic Party was reluctant to support the idea, saying that younger candidates would have an advantage over technologically challenged veteran politicians. But now the LDP has drawn up an outline of a bill that would lift the ban.

Given the vital role the Internet now plays in the dissemination of information, it seems very odd, to say the least, that parties cannot use it to reach out to voters during election campaigns. Regulations will be needed to bar parties and candidates from sending spam e-mail that does not contain policy proposals, but the two parties should reach an agreement quickly, so that candidates will be able to use the Internet in the upcoming Upper House election campaign.