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Japan's Embrace of E-Electioneering Will Herald Administrative Reform and Business Chances

12, 05. 2005

   A ban on online election campaigning is expected to be lifted in Japan next year. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the opposition Democratic Party (DP), long an advocate of such liberalization, are now discussing the necessary amendments to the public election law. After agreement, a bill for the liberalization will be presented to the ordinary session of the Diet (Parliament) next year. Some Internet companies, sensing a good business opportunity, are watching developments eagerly.

   In Japan, online election campaigning is currently banned. Lawmakers who have their own websites outlining their policies and daily activities have to stop updating their websites when elections are going on. When the House of Representatives election was held in September, some observers argued that it was anachronistic to not allow political parties and candidates to create and update their websites considering current [internet-usage] trends.

LDP Fears Online Campaigning May Help Democrats

Many Japanese legislators operate websites, which are not allowed to update during election campaigns, because of the current provision of the public offices election law.
Many Japanese legislators operate websites, which are not allowed to update during election campaigns, because of the current provision of the public offices election law.

   The first recommendation for lifting the ban on online campaigning was made by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications' research group on election campaigning in the IT age in 2002. But it came to nothing because of resistance from the LDP, which feared that the DP would benefit more as the internet is used mostly by younger people while the LDP tends to be backed by older people who make limited use of computers. A revised bill presented to the Diet by DP Diet members for liberalization of internet election campaigning was scrapped in August. The DP had argued that internet election campaigning 1) does not cost much money and enables dialogue with voters, 2) enables information to be given out in large volumes and stimulates the interest of the young in elections, and 3) should be allowed in Japan too, as it is not banned in Britain, the United States and other major nations.

  The LDP's change of heart is connected with its landslide victory in the last House of Representatives election. Shogo Hayashi, Administrative Vice-Minister of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, indicated his support for liberalization on online electioneering by raising the possibility of amendment of the public election law at a press conference.
   The amendments would 'legalize' election-campaign-related websites, blogs and email-magazines. Political parties and election candidates would each be allowed to run one designated website registered with the election control committee. They would have to enter the cost of website updates as an item in election expense reports.

A 2.5 Trillion Yen Market

   Besides political parties and election candidates, internet-related service and manufacturing companies are showing keen interest in online election campaigning. The lifting of the ban is expected to spur plans for e-elections and e-government (both central and local) too, creating major business chances. E-elections would involve changes in wide range of areas, such as compilation of electoral lists, creation of e-voting and electoral administration systems, and systems for conducting e-referenda and private electoral support activities. In addition, it would be possible to arrange 'one-step' filing of documents electronically with central and local e-government. Plans for e-government (central and local) have already been launched at the ministries and agencies of central government. Local governments will launch a similar program in 2007. The initiative involves major expenditures from national and municipal budgets, and is expected to create a market estimated at 2 .5 trillion yen.
   Vying for share in this potential market are internet giants such as Hitachi, Fujitsu, NTT Data, Microsoft, and TKC. They are launching websites giving information on central and local e-government as part of efforts to promote sales to town halls around Japan.

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