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In the United States, the Internet has become a key communication source in the political equation, as evidenced by President Bill Clinton’s televised e-mail “net conference” in August.

In Japan, the technology is in use, but both politicians and the public alike are still uncertain how to best take advantage of it.

The Liberal Democratic Party and the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan have opened Web sites to disseminate information and to solicit the opinions of ordinary citizens.

The opinion page on the LDP’s site seeks input on topical and controversial issues, such as revisions to the Juvenile Law and the Constitution, explained an official of the LDP’s Policy Affairs Research Council.

A DPJ Diet member, meanwhile, envisions use of his party’s site to garner votes in areas where the DPJ has no territorial ties.

He sees Net technology as a means to dig up votes outside the framework of the conventional supporters’ groups.

One-third of Diet members, meanwhile, have their own Web sites, and a separate site solely dedicated to ranking them has opened up.

Among citizens’ sites is the Network Democracy Forum (FNETD), launched by Junei Fujiwara, a 45-year-old company employee, in July 1995.

According to Fujiwara, topics discussed on the page range from local administration to international affairs. He said 600 people access it daily.

When the LDP decided on a review of public works projects at the end of August, Fujiwara said, there were serious discussions on the site.

Some called it great progress that the LDP, which relies on public works spending to woo voters, is reviewing them, while others complained that the controversial Isahaya Bay project was not among the works to be suspended.

Other citizens’ sites are less tame. Policy Net — Rainbow and Green — Shizuoka Prefecture waged a campaign against several candidates in the June general election, hoping to realize losses by making public their opinions and policies.

The site’s goal is to increase turnout at the polls and rouse unaffiliated voters into getting interested in politics.

Still there is no real evidence pointing to the effectiveness of these sites, and their makers are still learning to adapt to the technology.

FNETD, for example, was originally launched as a site for policy proposals, but unforeseen problems forced Fujiwara to change tactics.

“There are too many differing opinions. It is difficult to put them together in one direction,” he explained.

Susumu Yanase, a DPJ member of the House of Councilors who is also a FNETD member, further added that “since anybody can participate in the Net, discussions can’t be boiled down.

“It isn’t the winning hit in policy formulation,” he said.

Koichi Ogawa, a professor of communications at Tokai University, pointed out another reason for problems in the marriage of politics and Net technology.

“Face-to-face talk is still important in politics. You can’t tell whether opinions on the Net are sincere. Even if communication technology changes, politics will never change,” he said, indicating that trial and error among politicians and citizens in the use of the Net will continue.

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