Unable to hit campaign trails or give street speeches amid the COVID-19 crisis, the four candidates for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s presidency have taken to social media in hope of winning votes.
As the new LDP leader will become the party’s face in this autumn’s general election for the House of Representatives, pundits say the candidates are actively using social media to demonstrate their self-presentation and communication skills to the general public.
In Wednesday’s LDP leadership election, party lawmakers as well as rank-and-file party members and supporters will choose the successor to outgoing President Yoshihide Suga, the country’s prime minister.
In terms of Twitter followers, regulatory reform and vaccine minister Taro Kono, 58, by far outnumbers his rivals, boasting 2.42 million followers on his account.
Kono, who actively tweets about both his public and private life, has also created a Twitter account specifically for the LDP leadership race, which has attracted 159,000 followers. He is known for blocking Twitter users who post critical comments. On Sept. 7, a hashtag meaning “blocked by Mr. Kono” became a trending topic.
Fumio Kishida, 64, former chairman of the LDP’s Policy Research Council, is eager to enhance interactive communication with the public. With 62,000 followers on his Twitter account, Kishida has invited Twitter users to post their opinions on politics with a hashtag meaning “Kishida box.” According to Kishida there have been more than 10,000 tweets so far, and he is using YouTube to answer questions during livestreams.
Sanae Takaichi, 60, former internal affairs minister, saw her number of Twitter followers surge after declaring her candidacy for the top LDP post. After tweeting for the first time in two years and eight months on Sept. 11, Takaichi now has 224,000 followers. A separate Twitter account for her supporters’ group also has more than 100,000 followers.
Seiko Noda, 61, the LDP’s executive acting secretary-general, has a smaller number of Twitter followers than her rivals, with 17,000. But her Ameba blog is the most popular in the blog service’s category for politicians. Noda is also an active user of Instagram, frequently posting photographs of her son.
“Opinions voiced on social media may be different from overall public opinion,” said Iwao Osaka, associate professor at Komazawa University, who specializes in political communication.
Osaka expressed the view that the candidates’ social media posts were likely to have a limited impact on voting behavior in the LDP leadership race.
The candidates are “trying to highlight their communication skills with the coming general election in mind, as the current Suga administration has often been criticized for a lack of such skills,” Osaka said.
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