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Even if Prime Minister Taro Aso decides not to dissolve the chamber for a snap election, the current term of Lower House members ends in September. So, an election will be held this year. With the Japanese economy in crisis and the nation facing political stagnation, the upcoming election will be very important.

Unfortunately, institutional defects block the smooth flow of information from political parties and politicians to voters, making it difficult for the electorate to discern politicians’ and political parties’ visions of Japan and policy proposals.

Under the Public Offices Election Law, political parties and politicians, in principle, cannot renew their Web sites once the election campaign officially begins. The law only permits the distribution of fliers and postcards during the campaign period. This provision is absurd in an age when a majority of voters use the Internet, as it deprives them of a crucial source of information during the campaign period.

Most Diet members have established Web sites and use them to express their opinions on policy matters and to report on their activities in the Diet. Many of them e-mail newsletters to voters. A study group of the internal affairs ministry in 2002 proposed allowing the use of home pages during the campaign period, noting that the Internet plays a key role in promoting democracy in the 21st century. But the Diet has been slow to revise the law.

Another problem with the law is the 2003 revision allowing the distribution of detailed campaign pledges in book form. These “manifestos” can only be placed at a limited number of locations, such as candidates’ campaign offices. This makes it nearly impossible for most voters to read the manifestos and make informed decisions. At the very least, the government should extend the official campaign period for Lower House elections. How can voters assess policy proposals and form opinions in just 12 days? The length of the campaign period at present is an insult to voters and ignores their rights.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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