Japan's parliament election is coming up at the end of August, and this time, citizens there are feeling "change" in the air. Not just about who will be the next prime minister there, but also about "how" he will be elected. Although the election rules prohibit many types of Internet usage by individual candidates, on the ground of fairness - the remains of the days when Internet was not universally available -, so Obama-style "Net campaign" is impossible, still some interesting activities are happening on the Net this time.
Ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is in danger of losing the majority in the lower house for the first time since 1993, and the major press, including newspapers and TVs, are all predicting that the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) will win, and thus the change of government. Such an important occasion called for a public debate between the leaders of these two parties, and it was held on August 12 hosted by a volunteer organization, 21st Century Rincho.
In the U.S., the presidential debate between Kennedy and Nixon in 1960, aired on TV, forever changed the American politics. In Japan, just because LDP has been in power all the time, there was no need for such a debate, and TV could get by with just showing snippets of party leaders' speeches here and there. This time, however, Japanese people really wanted to see the unedited version of the leaders' debate.
So came the Internet video. On August 12, the real-time streaming was shown on YouTube-like free video service "Nico Nico Douga", with subscribers' comments shown on the screen. You can still watch the recording on Nico Nico, YouTube or on 21st Century Rincho website.
TV showed only the snippets, as usual, and major press kept reporting that DPJ Hatoyama was leading over current prime minister Aso (LDP) in the debate, following the lines of their "change" campaign. However, Net users are expressing a VERY different view.
In the full version, Hatoyama kept giving vague and contradictory statements, at times even painful to watch, and Aso making points much more clearly and sounded more reasonable. Even discounting that the ruling PM has a clear advantage with experience and research power support by government officials, I have to say at least that Hatoyama is a weak public speaker and DPJ's policy is either not strong or not clearly communicated to the public.
And the Net opinion is flaring up, saying that the traditional media is covering up such DPJ's failure and trying to manipulate the public impression. For the first time in the country's history, anybody can now have the access to the non-edited original video. Power of Internet in public disclosure was proven in a dramatic manner.
In 1960, radio listeners thought Nixon won, but TV audience was getting an opposite impression, and the election ended up in Kennedy's victory. It is still not clear whether this debate will have any influence in the election result this time around in Japan, and if so, it could mean that there will be no "change" of government. But more importantly, I believe that people realized the importance of Internet-style information disclosure. And I hope it will give enough scale of shock to wake up the sleepy Japan.