Online campaigning nears

The Lower House on April 12 passed a bill that will allow the use of the Internet for election campaigning and the Upper House followed by passing it Friday. Enactment of the bill will greatly change the face of election campaigns.

The law should increase people’s interest in politics, better familiarize them with the policies and views of parties and candidates, and eventually lead to a higher voter turnout in elections. The voter turnout for the Dec. 16 Lower House election was just 59.3 percent, a postwar low.

Currently heavy restrictions are imposed on the volume and the types of campaign literature, including flyers, that can be distributed before and after the official start of an election campaign. Articles and photos posted online are regarded as campaign literature, and once a campaign has officially kicked off, updating related online information is prohibited.

Since the bill has been enacted, it will become possible for political parties and candidates to post political views, requests for voter support, and photos/videos on websites, blogs, Twitter and Facebook.

If they get permission from voters, candidates can send email. Only parties and candidates will be allowed to send requests for voter support of specific candidates; ordinary citizens will be barred from doing so. Political parties will also be allowed to post online banner ads to attract people to their websites.

With the introduction of Internet-based campaigns, voters will be able to listen to or read the views of political parties and candidates. Hopefully this will enable them to more carefully examine the views of political parties and candidates, and force political parties and candidates to make more plausible and coherent election promises as they will be held more accountable.

Online campaigning will not be free of problems. There is a possibility that people will fraudulently assume the identity of candidates or their organizations and post damaging information, or that candidates and their parties will resort to mudslinging themselves.

Under the bill, Internet service providers will contact the senders of damaging information. If they fail to provide an acceptable reason for making such statements, the providers will delete their messages within two days. Candidates will be allowed to post online rebuttals of damaging messages.

Although the Internet is convenient, it will be important for voters to also get election information from other media sources such as newspapers, TV and radio to ensure they get a wide range of views. This summer’s Upper House contest will be the first election held under the new law. It must be watched carefully how campaigning proceeds and how it impacts voter turnout.