Campaigning, 21st-century style

The ruling and opposition parties have agreed to allow election campaigns to use the Internet. A bill for a relevant revision of the law will be introduced to the Diet by lawmakers — not by the government — and campaigns will take to the Internet starting this summer when the Upper House election is held. While differences remain concerning the details of online election campaigns, it is hoped that the change will increase public interest in politics and raise voter turnout.

Currently the Public Offices Election Law severely restricts the distribution of documents for election campaigns (websites are regarded as documents under the law), allowing only the distribution of postcards and flyers.

The law bars parties and candidates from updating their websites once election campaigns officially begin.

In 2010, a bill was submitted to the Diet to allow the updating of websites even after the official start of an election campaign. But the law revision did not materialize due to a tight Diet schedule caused by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s resignation.

This time, not only the renewal of websites but also use of social networking services such as Facebook and Twitter will be permitted. This will provide voters with more channels to learn the views of parties and candidates.

Some candidates may choose to post their campaign speeches and publicize their activities on the Internet, or answer questions submitted by members of the public.

The ruling and opposition parties have different opinions as to the use of email for the purpose of election campaigns. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito think that email should be limited to political parties and candidates.

The Democratic Party of Japan, Your Party and the Japan Communist Party, whose supporters are generally younger and more Net-savvy, call for allowing voters to use email to support particular parties or candidates. This position, which embraces the fundamental right of free speech, seems reasonable.

While the use of the Internet in election campaigns will likely have positive effects, attention must be paid to potential problems, including identification fraud.

A person posing as a candidate could make statements intended to damage the candidate’s reputation. Email could be used to carry out excessive attacks on particular parties or candidates. The parties should reach an agreement on ways to prevent abuse of email.

A system that can immediately remove malicious messages aimed at particular parties or candidates is necessary.

Parties and candidates should refrain from using the Internet as a means to smear other parties and candidates. They should use common sense in employing the Internet in election campaigns.

To help ensure that people who do not have Internet access at home can view online campaign information, local governments should, with the help of volunteers, set up appropriate facilities.