Prime minister in waiting Shinzo Abe, of Japan’s recently elected Liberal Democratic Party, stated on Friday what could be one of his first smart decisions of his term. While it doesn’t have anything to do with Japan’s poor relationship with China at the moment, or its sinking economy, it does address something equally important: the internet and the future of Japanese elections.
In a meeting with the chiefs of information technology companies, Abe said that he wants to lift the country’s strict ban on election campaigning and the use of the internet. He added that it would stand a good chance of increasing voter turnout, learning a lesson from the U.S. and other countries where candidates often make effective use of various social networks to connect with the public. While the LDP won Sunday’s general elections by a landslide, a record low of only 59.3% of the Japanese public actually voted.
While Japan is often recognized for being the source of some of the world’s latest high technology, the country also has an uncanny ability to avoid its use to an extreme. See the continued, and enthusiastic, use of the aging fax machine. Japan’s electoral laws, which were established well before the internet came along, states that anything promoting a candidate appearing on a screen is equal to a leaflet or poster, which are limited by number in how many can be displayed or handed out.
This means there are no TV commercials, but taken even further, the use of social networks like Twitter and Facebook, blogs or personal websites, and even email, are banned from being used during the official campaign period. Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, who is a leading member of a party that was trying to win seats in the Lower House, but not a candidate for Prime Minister, made headlines this month when he refused to stop using Twitter, for which he is known for being very active on. The outdated laws reduce the two-week campaign period to little more than candidates riding around on little trucks with megaphones, shouting their own names. There is little to no interaction with the public on important issues, and questions never have the opportunity to be asked or answered.