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Japan’s election allergy on the Internet

July 13, 2009

Tech-savvy Japan is home to many high-tech companies and more than 70 percent of its people use the Internet. But politics on the Web falls far behind.

Both politicians and voters can be found online. Lawmakers have their own blogs and channels on sites such as niconico and youtube, and political parties such as the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and main opposition Democratic Party of Japan have websites.  A couple of politicians are even tweeting on ”Twitter“.

JAPAN-POLITICS/

But now that the election looks set to be called for late August, Japanese politics will fall off the ‘Net, rather than ramping up in volume like it does in other countries.

Japan’s 59-year-old election law bans campaigns using visual images that can reach large numbers of readers during an election campaign. While written in the age of posters and pamphlets, the law has been interpreted as preventing Internet advertising.

Opposition lawmaker Seiji Ohsaka is one of the “tweeting” politicians but he has been told he must stop for the 12 days of official campaigning ahead of the election.

“With Twitter, I can send out information in a short, small, and compact way… It’s possible for those that do not seriously face politics on a regular basis to touch on it in a casual way,” Ohsaka told me, after sending 50 tweets during a debate between the prime minister and opposition leader in parliament.

“Really, it (the internet) will have to be used in campaigns. It is no longer possible to say ‘don’t use it’.”

Japan has a long way to go to catch up with the United States. Only 22 percent of voters told a Hitotsubashi University survey that they received online information about the last general election in 2005, despite the restrictions, compared with a 40 percent of U.S. voters in a Pew Research Center survey.

Online donations are not accepted on the websites of the big two parties and most prominent politicians shun social networking sites as efforts to innovate risk running afoul of the election law.

That leaves the politicians, many of whom are in their sixties and seventies, even further away from a new generation of voters.

Fewer than half of Japanese in their 20s voted in the last general election in 2005, compared with around 80 percent of those in their 50s and 60s.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

Comments

While this new win definitely brings about “change” in Japan’s leadership, it’s still too early to say whether Japan will move away from it’s strong U.S. ties, and towards stronger Asia regionalism. Asia Chronicle actually recently wrote about this historic election, which you can read at (http://asiachroniclenews.com/).

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