Arrests over Election Obstruction: Diet Should Deepen Discussions to Prevent Reoccurrence

Stump speeches during election campaigns are important opportunities for candidates to express their political views and for voters to listen to them in order to make a decision for voting. If obstructions are allowed to continue, democracy will be shaken. It is only natural to take strict measures.

The Metropolitan Police Department has arrested Atsuhiko Kurokawa, the head of the Tsubasa no To political organization; its secretary general Ryosuke Nemoto, who was a candidate in a House of Representatives by-election; and another senior member of the group on suspicion of violating the Public Offices Election Law for allegedly obstructing the election campaign of another candidate and his supporters during the lower house Tokyo Constituency No. 15 by-election campaign period in April.

On the day that official campaigning started for the election, the three allegedly obstructed a free election by screaming over loudspeakers and honking a car horn in front of a JR station where the candidate was making a speech.

The MPD issued a warning to the three during the campaign period, but they did not stop such acts as chasing around other candidates’ campaign cars, claiming that it was freedom of expression.

Even after the election, they said they would continue these acts even if it looked as if they would be arrested. The MPD must have concluded it should not leave the incident alone any longer.

In its judicial precedent, the Supreme Court defines election obstruction as “acts that make it impossible to give a speech or for the audience to hear the speech.”

Due to the obstructive behavior of the three suspects, other candidates and their supporters were forced to forgo advance notice of their stump speeches and reduce the frequency of their speeches in order to avoid confusion. It must be made clear to all that the rights of the candidates and voters were violated.

Tsubasa no To itself filmed a series of disruptive acts and posted footage on an online video-sharing site. If the organization wanted to gain views and attention with their extreme actions, it would be an insult to the election.

During the 2019 House of Councillors election, the people who jeered then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during his stump speech were removed by Hokkaido police officers, but the Sapporo District Court and the Sapporo High Court ruled the police action violated their freedom of expression.

Nemoto likely had this ruling in mind when, prior to his arrest, he posted on social media, “When jeers aimed at Abe were judged as legal, there is no way we’re doing something illegal,” insisting on the legitimacy of their actions.

The Constitution stipulates that freedom of expression and other freedoms must not be abused. In order to prevent similar acts of obstruction in the future, it is important to clearly specify in concrete terms “acts that make it impossible to give or listen to a speech,” which is considered the criterion for determining what acts are illegal.

The development of online society has also affected election campaigns. Recently, those involved in a case in which an online paid advertisement was used to attract more voters were charged.

The Diet should deepen discussions on ways to hold sound elections while protecting freedom of expression.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 18, 2024)