Expecting that the ban on Internet campaigning will be lifted soon, political parties and political candidates for Japan’s Upper House elections this summer are now rushing to educate themselves and planning on how they can leverage this new platform for their campaigns.
Even though everyone seems to agree that allowing candidates to campaign through social networks will be a good idea, there are still a lot of uncertainties that come with it. Analysts are also uncertain how this will affect the public’s voting behavior, with low voter turn-out an increasing problem in the past elections. Kiyohiko Toyama, a lower house legislator from New Komeito, believes that this will most likely increase the turn-out among young people, since candidates can now reach them where they spend their time the most: online and on social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Sakihito Ozawa, Diet affairs chief of the Japan Restoration Party (JRP) said the amendments in the Public Offices Election Act will allow people with hearing and speaking problems a chance to run in elections, which they previously could not do since online campaigning was not allowed. One of the benefits to allowing internet campaigning is that candidates can now make joint-campaign speeches (currently not allowed by the Public Election Act) by using “video chat” services.
Both the ruling and opposition parties have agreed to lift the ban and are rushing to have the bill enacted in time for the Upper House elections. “Third pole” forces have also welcomed this development. JRP co-leader Toru Hashimoto, who is one of the more outspoken politicians on Twitter, said that this is moving the country’s political system in a good direction.
But it isn’t just the parties that will benefit from this: voters can now closely scrutinize their policy issues and political platforms and compare the candidates, both on the local and national level. The public will be able to receive live and up-to-date information about speech schedules, rallies, and of course what the candidates say (or not say) on their own social networks. Haruki Tanimoto, chief researcher at the Ozaki Yukio Memorial Foundation said that “ignoring questions” on this platform might be a deciding factor for some of the netizens. That is why the parties are already conducting educational activities on this new campaign method, especially for the candidates who have no experience whatsoever in this arena.