As the official July 4 start of the Upper House election campaign nears, political parties are preparing to step up their activities geared to the election. The big problem with Japan’s recent elections has been low voter turnout.
Political parties have the great responsibility of rousing people’s interest in politics by presenting in-depth analyses of Japan’s current political and economic issues and explaining their election promises in a clear-cut and rational way. Mass media also can play an important role in increasing people’s interest in elections.
Political parties and voters should realize that a low voter turnout deprives elected politicians of their legitimacy in the minds of many voters, undermining the foundation of representative democracy.
Voter turnout for an Upper House election fell to a record low of 44.52 percent in 1995. In the next five Upper House elections, voter turnout was between 50 percent and 60 percent.
It is incumbent upon political parties and local election administration commissions alike to do whatever they can to encourage as many voters as possible to go to polling stations for the July 21 Upper House election.
In the Dec. 16 Lower House election, which gave the Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner Komeito a more than two-thirds majority in the Diet chamber, voter turnout in single-seat constituencies slipped to a postwar record low of 59.32 percent. This showed that many people were so disappointed with the Democratic Party of Japan government that they apparently lost hope in politics itself. This is a serious situation.
April saw an Upper House by-election in Yamaguchi Prefecture, the first Diet election since the inauguration of the Abe administration, as well as a series of local elections to choose local assembly members and local government heads.
Voter turnout in the Yamaguchi Upper House by-election was only 38.68 percent, 23.23 percentage points lower than the voter turnout of 61.91 percent in the 2010 Upper House election. The low voter turnout may be attributable to the fact that Yamaguchi Prefecture is Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s election base, that the LDP swept all four single-seat constituencies in the Dec. 16 Lower House election, and that an LDP candidate was predicted to win even before the Upper House by-election.
In April, 80 city mayoral elections were held in Tokyo and 34 prefectures. Twenty-one of the mayors were selected without elections because no other candidates ran. In more than 60 percent of the cities, voter turnout hit a record low.
To raise people’s interest in politics, the role of opposition parties is particularly important. Opposition parties need to clearly point out what is wrong with the government’s policies and present convincing policy choices that clearly differ from those of the ruling parties.
In the coming Upper House election campaign, political parties, candidates and voters will be allowed to use the Internet to some extent to try to persuade people to vote for particular candidates. Parties can also show online videos of candidates’ speeches. Citizens will also be allowed to ask others not to vote for particular candidates. It is our hope that effective use of the Internet during campaigns will spur interest and lead to higher voter turnouts.