Elections are an important opportunity to reflect people’s opinions in politics. Voters should cast their ballots while preventing infections.
While the scope of the emergency declaration has been expanded to all prefectures, the by-election for the Shizuoka Constituency No. 4 of the House of Representatives and elections for local government heads and local assemblies are being held.
Many candidates have avoided shaking hands with voters and canceled large-scale rallies to prevent close-contact, crowded situations. In addition to using telephone calls to seek support, candidates and their campaigners using social media have been conspicuous. It can be said that the election campaigns have been forced to change.
The election administration commissions of local governments are focusing on ensuring safety when people cast ballots.
In the election for ward mayor in Meguro Ward, Tokyo, the ward office released the voting volume of past polls by hour on its website to urge voters to spread out their casting of ballots over the course of the day.
Each election commission has thoroughly disinfected and ventilated polling stations. It is hoped such efforts will continue to be made.
Since February, when the infections began to spread, voter turnout in many local elections have dropped from previous polls. Seven of the eight mayoral elections held April 12 marked their lowest voter turnouts. This is a worrying situation.
Voter turnout also depends on who had been contending in the election battle and weather conditions on election day. However, recent lower voter turnouts were considerably affected by the self-restraint from going outing due to the spread of infections with the new coronavirus.
The central government notified local governments that elections should be held as scheduled, saying that going to vote is not a nonessential, nonurgent outing.
The Public Offices Election Law stipulates that local government heads and assembly members must be elected within 30 days before their terms expire.
To change the election schedule, it is necessary to enact special legislation or to revise the law. There were cases that election schedules were changed in the wake of the Great Hanshin Earthquake and the Great East Japan Earthquake because holding elections were physically difficult then. The situations were different from the current circumstance.
If it becomes possible to easily postpone elections, it may lead heads of local governments and political parties to change election schedules for their own advantage.
Heads of local governments and members of the Diet and local assemblies represent the nation’s people and local residents. It is a principle of democracy to hold elections under the given rules when terms expire.
Voters should exercise their right to vote by examining candidates’ personalities and policies through official election gazettes, newspapers, television and the internet.
It is also necessary to prepare for a situation in which elections cannot be held over a wide range of areas due to a huge outbreak of infections or a massive earthquake.
The Liberal Democratic Party has compiled a proposal to amend the Constitution that would allow the extension of lower house members’ four-year terms and House of Councillors members’ six-year terms if a national election cannot be held due to a major disaster.
The ruling and opposition parties should in earnest discuss measures, including managing local elections, to be taken in the event of a major disaster.
— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on April 20, 2020.