Both houses of Japan’s Diet approved and enacted a bill on Friday that will allow electoral campaigning using websites, Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking platforms – starting with this summer’s elections for the House of Councillors. The upper house voted unanimously for lifting the ban on internet campaigning and revising the Public Office Election Law. This means that Japan’s political parties and candidates will now also be able to use e-mail and online banner advertisements to attract people to their specific websites.
The bill, passed earlier this month by the lower house, was a calculated effort by Japanese lawmakers to curb the seeming apathy of the general public toward elections. This is very common among Japanese youth and is frequently the cause of low voter turnouts during elections. “This could lead to the creation of a political environment in which young voters and many others enhance their interest in politics,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters. This falls in neatly with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s recent announcement that he wants to lower the voting age from 20 to 18, also in a bid to kickstart the involvement of a much younger generation in Japan’s political and government issues.
Lawmakers have realized that online platforms are vulnerable to abuse, and so the revised campaigning law has some general rules to curb malicious use. The law stipulates that using false identities is illegal and subject to imprisonment of up to two years or a fine of up to 300,000 yen (about $3,000). Internet service providers have been empowered to delete libelous comments within two days of posting at the earliest, after giving notice to those who posted them. The passing of the bill almost ground to a halt over the issue of limitations on the use of campaign emails, but both houses have come to an agreement on the issue. These new rules will be applied in both national and local elections.