As the orange van cruises central Tokyo, Kan Suzuki, a politician from the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), scours the street for voters. Leaning from the window, he blares out his name through the van’s loudspeakers, and a team of white-gloved ladies known as uguisu-jo, or warbler girls, echoes him, waving starchily at a lone pensioner. Then Mr Suzuki retreats inside, to his iPad. For the first time in Japan, the law now allows him to update his home page during an election campaign. For years the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), in office until 2009 and again from late last year, resisted changing outdated laws banning digital campaigning. Its older politicians had not a clue about social media. Others feared negative smear campaigns or worried that a Barack Obama-inspired internet machine could hand victories to the more technically minded DPJ. Until this election campaign—for the upper house of the Diet, where half of the seats are up for grabs on July 21st—all online activity had to freeze just when candidates most wanted to reach voters.
Shinzo Abe, prime minister since December, has changed all that. During the general election campaign he challenged opponents to debates on Nico Nico Douga, a video-sharing website. To outline his bold ideas for monetary loosening, he took to Facebook. And in April he pressed the LDP to pass a bill to allow online campaigning. The party has doled out iPads, arranged social-media tutorials and ordered its candidates, old and young, to get online.
The party’s aim, says Takuya Hirai, its head of internet strategy, is to attract groups that have not usually supported the LDP, including the young, who often shun politics altogether. A few hundred thousand have downloaded an LDP-commissioned game for smartphones featuring a cartoon of Mr Abe. The aim is to bounce Mr Abe up into the clouds, as he changes from grey-suited politician into a caped superhero inspired by a recent cover of The Economist.
Full Article: Japan’s upper-house election: Gloves off | The Economist.