Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Internet’s Effect on Japanese Politics and Election

I attended a forum, entitled “Symposium on Internet Election” on July 20, held at the Tokyo Yaesu Hall, by Tokyo Station. I was invited by Nihon Blog Mura, which is a cyber space community of Japanese bloggers.

Although I expected that global civil advocacy would be discussed as well in this symposium, agendas were mostly on Japanese domestic politics. Nevertheless, since election is one of basic components of democracy, this is an important issue for one who publishes a political blog and has contributed political articles to printed media. Even though I do not have strong expertise in the election, it is worth to attend this forum.

This symposium was very small, and there were less than 100 people except guest speakers and event staff. The primary agenda was the potential of the Internet as a breakthrough to improve current Japanese election regulations which hinders candidates from sending their policy messages to voters.

First, Takeshi Kimura, President of Financial Corporation which is an investment advisory company gave a lecture. Kimura commented that Japanese elites in politics, business, and bureaucracy, are reluctant to change current election system, because they do not welcome the rise of new type of leaders who can draw voters’ attention with their policy visions. Furthermore, he said deregulation of election campaign on the Internet will be headway toward transforming Japan into a real civic democracy from an old society dependent on bureaucratic guidance.

Most importantly, Kimura pointed out that Japanese political establishments are reluctant to provide inconvenient information for voters, because they want to “keep the people ignorant” just as medieval feudal lords did. Takeshi Kimura’s viewpoints mostly overlap those written in “The Enigma of Japanese Power” by Karel van Wolferen, a well known Dutch expert on Japanese politics. As Kimura faces outmoded bureaucratic regulation in financial industry, his arguments are driven by demand for change which is much more exigent than that of Wolferen.

Norihiko Fukuda, legislator of Kanagawa Prefecture, spoke the next, and he insisted that the Internet promotes massive flow of information from candidates to voters.

After two brief lectures, a panel discussion was held. This was moderated by Hideki Hirano, a president of a cyber media company. Panelists were Ken Takeuchi and Motohiko Tokuriki, both presidents of internet business companies, and Daigo Sato, a representative of an NPO to assist political internship programs.

Although the lecture and the panel were worthy, it is a pity that they focused entirely on one way communications from candidates to voters in their discussion about the Internet and election. However, I would argue that two way communications mutually done between candidates and voters, are also important.

Actually, a blogger like I send political advocacy messages. I raised my hand in the Q and A session, but other attendants had chances to ask.

As it was a small symposium, I wish attendants had some chances for mutual contacts. In that case, a good opportunity like this forum will be of much help for people at the forum. Just listening to lectures and panel discussions is not enough.

Nevertheless, I believe an event like this be organized frequently.