Thursday, May 13, 2010

Improved Campaign Laws

MTC is on the ball and has posted about some good legislative news around these parts. As you may know, the Japanese campaign laws are Byzantine, old-fashioned, inconsistent, and - to put a not too fine a point on it - designed to favour the ruling party and established society over the opposition and grassroots movements. Chalk it up as another legacy of the cold war; Japan had a very active, very violent communist revolutionary movement, and while the repression went rather over the line, fears of civil unrest was not completely unfounded.

Part of those rules put very strict limits on what parties and their candidates can do or say in the run-up to the election. The limits are permissive - they tell you what you can do, and anything not listed is forbidden. As a result, any internet-based campaigning has basically been forbidden.

If you are a candidate with a website and a blog, for instance, you are forbidden from updating the site or writing on the blog from the moment official campaigning starts up until the election a month or more later. Which is more than a little ridiculous, since everybody else can talk about you and your program online, and even put words in your mouth, without you having any way to respond. Worse, campaign rules have not been applied consistently; the ruling party (the LDP) has routinely got away with borderline cases that the opposing parties have not. The DPJ has long wanted to liberalize the online campaign rules, but the LDP has been opposed.

Today the shoe is on the other foot, with LDP in opposition and the DPJ in power. The way the DPJ has been backsliding - occasionally making a credible imitation of LDP at its most craven and nakedly power-hungry - it would not have been surprising to have them renege on this as well, now that the restrictions favour them. To their credit, they did not, but have submitted a bill to liberalize online campaigning in time for the upper house election this summer. The LDP, knowing what's good for them, have actually agreed to the bill, making it bipartisan and all but sure to not only get enacted but kept no matter how the electoral winds may change in the future.

The bill, as described by MTC and newspaper reports, is fairly sensible. Basically, you can publish stuff on your own site - your website, your blog and so on - but restrictions stay in place for more direct communication such as twitter and email. It's much harder to verify the origin of email than a website, and the fear is that people will impersonate candidates for smear campaigns. I'm happy about that restriction, for a different reason: I get plenty of spam across my accounts already, and I don't need long-winded Japanese campaign mails added to it if I can at all avoid it.

This, by the way, shows how change of government really is a good thing, even when the change is between two about equally disagreeable alternatives. The most partisan, ideological legislation tends to get modified or repealed over time. And when you expect to be both in power and in opposition from time to time, you don't want any rules too heavily favouring one over the other.

1 comment:

sigma1 said...

Certainly for email for both the stated reason and the one you have suggested. I am sure they could work out a system for Twitter however - already you have verified accounts which surely offers more protection than webpages - I mean www.hatoyamayukio.jp would be easy enough to purchase and use for whatever purposes one wanted.

They could create a website like this
http://politter.com/en/ for a first port of call for users wanting to find official accounts. I don't see how this would be any worse than blogs.