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Editorial: Democracy must not be a casualty of pandemic or other emergencies

  • April 28, 2020
  • , The Japan News , 1:18 p.m.
  • English Press

It is hoped that the measures taken by local governments and candidates will serve as a reference for future elections.


The by-election for the House of Representatives in Shizuoka Constituency No. 4 was the first national election held since the spread of the novel coronavirus.


In the by-election following the death of a Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker, an LDP newcomer won the competition among four candidates. In addition to the fact that conservatives are strong in the area, it can be said that the call for a “mourning election” was successful.


Four opposition parties, including the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, fielded a unified candidate and criticized the handling of the infectious diseases by the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. But they lost to the LDP by a landslide. Challenges remain for them on the issue of how to form a united front toward the next general election.


Voter turnout stood at 34.1%, down nearly 20 percentage points from the 2017 lower house election. Voter turnout in by-elections tends to be low, but the latest by-election apparently has also been influenced by calls to refrain from going out following the declaration of a state of emergency.


Due to the spread of the infectious disease, each camp refrained from holding speeches and rallies where many people might gather.


Instead, they focused on the use of Twitter and video sites. In addition to their policies and assertions, they repeatedly uploaded content such as meetings with party leaders. For each party, this will be an effective technique in times of crisis in elections.


Local governments’ election administration committees increased the number of polling stations to disperse voters. They also adopted other measures such as sterilizing pencils used to fill out ballot forms.


Due to concerns that voter turnout may fall, municipal governments, including that of Fujinomiya, Shizuoka Prefecture, have increased the number of polling stations for early voting, and vehicles carrying mobile polling stations have moved around in the electoral districts.


Each local government is encouraged to thoroughly implement measures to prevent the spread of infections in future elections and devise measures to increase voter turnout.


There are calls for postponing local elections due to the spread of infectious diseases. However, elections are the foundation of democracy and must be held as scheduled in principle. Voters are urged to cast their precious votes by carefully assessing each party’s policies.


On the other hand, there may be a situation in which elections cannot be held over a wide area due to an outbreak of infectious diseases or a major disaster.


The term of office of the current House of Representatives members will expire next autumn. Extending the term on the grounds of an emergency would require a constitutional amendment. Each party should deepen discussions on how to deal with disasters and other emergencies.


NHK kara Kokumin o Mamoru To (Party to protect the people from NHK) fielded a candidate with the same first name and last name as the unified opposition candidate. They were apparently trying to collect indistinguishable votes that were to be split proportionately.


In accordance with the Public Offices Election Law, the Shizuoka prefectural election commission distinguished the two candidates by asking voters to write down the age of the candidate on ballots.


It is not rare for people with the same name to run in the same election, but it can be called an abuse of the system to intentionally field such candidates. Such irresponsible conduct needs to be corrected.


— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on April 28, 2020.

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