by Faizal Nor Izham

The words “democracy” and “Asia” aren’t always known for going together. But with the proliferation of the Internet and social media, Asia appears to be learning a few lessons from other developing nations when it comes to democratic reform. The Arab Spring, the online democratic movement which eventually culminated in protests in Tunisia and Egypt, is surely a recent example that could be learned from.

The Internet has certainly had a liberating effect on this region, previously known for being conservative in terms of political expression and dissent. The Japanese political sphere, for example, is usually not renowned for being politically active or outspoken. But that’s slowly starting to change.

Japanese student movement SEALDs (Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy; English site found here) is playing its part in trying to break this mould, exemplified by a protest organised in Shibuya, Tokyo on October 18. Also taking part were representatives of Japan’s main opposition parties and the recently formed T-ns SOWL (Teens Stand Up to Oppose War Law).

( © SEALDs )

( © SEALDs )

The rally opposed new security bills, adopted over a month ago, which allows Japan to send troops to overseas war zones for the first time since the end of World War 2. Scholars have branded the decision a violation of the Constitution, and it has also been widely opposed by the majority of the Japanese people.

SEALDs has also been behind many peaceful protests over the past few months. In doing so, they intend to highlight the lack of democratic process in Japan, as well as give the opposition opportunities to show a united front. The response has been encouraging, with about 120,000 participating in one such protest on August 30. The rallies also serve as a platform for participants, mostly in their teens and early twenties, to connect with one another in order to discuss the future of the nation. One of their goals is for the currently divided opposition party to unite, so that they can defeat the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in the next election.

they intend to highlight the lack of democratic process in Japan, as well as give the opposition opportunities to show a united front.

SEALDs have also published a book a mere few months after launching their movement. “Tell Me What Democracy Looks Like?” is one of a least two SEALDs books out this year. The book explores the concept of democracy, from ancient Greece to modern parliamentary practice, and encourages readers to articulate their own personal understanding of democracy. This is so that readers can start to develop a more practical understanding of the concept and integrate it into their daily lives. The book also explains the history of the activist group.

SEALDs members are renowned for being tech-savvy “digital natives” – LINE, a popular mobile phone app, has been central to how the activists communicate with one another, with some 180 of their activists being members. They also write and read their speeches from their iPhones – a more contemporary style of protest “based on overseas models”. Although SEALDs has been criticized for its perceived lack of ideology or concrete goals, its social media presence nevertheless remains active.

( © Japan TImes )

( © Japan TImes )

So what exactly is up for discussion in Japanese politics? For one thing, diplomatic tensions with neighbouring countries – especially China – that haven’t completely simmered down since World War 2, as well as a foreign policy that continues to be subservient to American interests. But just how far young activists can start to take control of Japan’s political future, even in the digital media age, remains to be seen.

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