Leslie M. Tkach-Kawasaki
The growth of the Internet over the past seven years in advanced democratic countries has prompted widespread speculation regarding its use as a means of political communication. The Internet, as the most popular flagbearer for this new wave of ICTs (information communications technologies), has received a great deal of attention for its potential as a democracy-enhancing information and communications channel. However, as Internet diffusion continues to spread throughout the world, we are becoming increasingly aware that its use varies widely in different social, cultural, and political environments.
As discussed in the Introduction to this volume, many Asian nations have only recently seen widespread ICT diffusion within their borders. Boasting user figures that comprise nearly one-third of the world's Internet user population, Asian nations face numerous challenges which are important to their future economic, political, and social development (Hachigian, 2002). In the political arena especially, political actors within these nations are cautiously making forays online, yet are concerned about the long-term political impact of the Internet on their existing power structures and political cultures. Mindful of the potential of the emergence of new political actors, one-party political regimes that have been politically stable for a long period, such as Singapore and Japan, have been especially cautious regarding the political Internet.
One outgrowth of the rapid expansion of the Internet since the early 1990s has been initiatives on the nation-state level to regulate various aspects of Internet content within national borders. These initiatives range from blocking certain content on WWW (World Wide Web) sites, as done in China, to requiring third parties that create politically oriented websites during election campaigns to register with the appropriate government authorities, as is the case in Singapore. The Japanese government has taken steps to deal with the Internet as a medium for political campaign activities as well but in ways that are quite different from those in other countries. Since a small number of politicians and political parties first experimented