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Voters in Tokyo gubernatorial election spurn irresponsible antinuclear drive

Publication Date : 11-02-2014

 

The outcome of Sunday’s Tokyo gubernatorial election can be said to attest to the strongly negative reaction by the majority of Tokyo residents to unrealistic arguments for an immediate end to nuclear power generation.

Former Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Yoichi Masuzoe won an overwhelming victory in the race for the top post in Japan's capital.

Masuzoe pledged in the campaign to make Tokyo the world’s No. 1 metropolis, stressing his resolve to do his utmost regarding Tokyo’s social welfare services, antidisaster measures and the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games and Paralympics.

Former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa and former head of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations Kenji Utsunomiya were the two other major candidates in the Tokyo contest, and campaigned against reactivation of nuclear plants by calling for nuclear power generation to be immediately reduced to zero. Utsunomiya finished a distant second to Masuzoe and Hosokawa a distant third.

Their electoral tactics focused on nuclear and energy issues, which should be dealt with primarily in the arena of national politics. Wasn’t this off the mark in the gubernatorial race, which is a local election?

‘Single-issue’ campaign

Hosokawa’s decision to run immediately before the official announcement of the election dramatically changed the nature of the election drives for a new Tokyo governor. In tandem with fellow former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, whose popularity is still markedly high, Hosokawa focused his campaign efforts on the choice between whether to eliminate nuclear power plants or not.

There is precedent of an election campaign focused on a single issue: While in office, former Prime Minister Koizumi led the Liberal Democratic Party to a sweeping triumph in a House of Representatives election by focusing on the pros and cons of postal privatisation. However, similar tactics failed to work this time.

According to voting day exit polls by The Yomiuri Shimbun, voters gave considerably less weight to issues related to nuclear plants and energy policy than they did to medical services and social welfare, and business growth and employment.

Hosokawa asserted, “There will be little difference in policies regarding anything but the nuclear power problem no matter who is elected to the governorship,” but failed to refer to any specific measures to secure renewable energy sources that would serve as the pillar to replace nuclear power generation. There is no choice but to call that way of campaigning extremely irresponsible.

Fuel costs for the thermal power generation currently taking the place of idled nuclear plants have kept ballooning, causing electricity charges to rise repeatedly. Anxiety is also on the rise over the environmental impact of the increasing carbon dioxide emissions resulting from thermal power generation.

Arguing in abstract terms in favor of reducing nuclear power to zero, without taking these problems into account, can never be convincing.

Masuzoe, in contrast, expressed his belief that energy policy should be handled primarily by the central government, pledging that he would make efforts to enhance the percentage of renewable energy in Tokyo’s total power consumption. In addition, his campaign placed high importance on issues close to Tokyo residents’ daily lives, such as improving the metropolitan government’s support for child rearing.

Many Tokyo residents may have high hopes regarding Masuzoe’s stance, which was well geared to the realities of their day-to-day lives.

War between Koizumi, Abe

Earlier on there were some within the LDP who were wary of throwing the party’s support behind Masuzoe, who was expelled from the party for criticising it. In response to the moves by Hosokawa and Koizumi, however, the LDP eventually embarked on full-scale support of Masuzoe.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba and other party leaders made campaign speeches for Masuzoe. They probably concluded that if Hosokawa gained more votes than expected, it could adversely affect the envisaged restart of nuclear power plants or even the growth strategy championed by the Abe administration.

Koizumi, who can be referred to in a sense as the protagonist on the stage of Tokyo election, has been a political mentor to Abe, and has urged the prime minister since last year to make a political decision to halt nuclear power generation immediately.

But Abe did not comply with Koizumi’s call, causing a rift between the two. It cannot be denied that the Tokyo gubernatorial election also became a proxy war between Abe and Koizumi.

At the Diet, Abe said there was no way for his administration to say, “We will end nuclear power generation now,” citing the possible adverse effects on people’s lives and economic activity.

His administration should consider nuclear power as an important source of electricity in the government’s basic energy plan, which is to be decided on shortly, and squarely tackle the issue of restarting nuclear power plants.

The stance of the Democratic Party of Japan is questionable. The party initially indicated it would support Masuzoe but later shifted its stance to back Hosokawa.

The DPJ has advocated halting nuclear power generation sometime in the 2030s, so its stance is actually different from Hosokawa’s desire to halt nuclear power generation immediately. This is nothing less than an ad-hoc response.

With the crushing defeat of Hosokawa in the election, the scheme of reorganising opposition parties, which some within the DPJ have been advocating and centres on the idea of breaking away from nuclear power generation, will stall.

There is a mountain of issues that the metropolitan government has to tackle, including how to deal with the aging society and low birthrate, which Masuzoe mentioned in his campaign speeches.

One in every four people in Tokyo will be elderly six years from now. Due to difficulty in securing plots of land, the shortage of facilities for the aged, including homes for elderly people requiring special care, will become ever more serious.

During the campaign, Masuzoe promised to utilise plots of idle land owned by the metropolitan government. He must present concrete steps to that end. We also hope he will fulfill his pledge to reduce the number of children on waiting lists for certified day care centres to zero in four years.

The new governor will also assume a heavy responsibility for making preparations for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. Masuzoe has repeatedly promised that he would aim at realising the “best Olympics in history”.

The metropolitan government has a 400 billion yen (US$4 billion) fund set aside for preparations for the 2020 Games. Needless to say, the Tokyo government has to move ahead without delay with construction work on athletic arenas and other facilities, while at the same time avoiding waste and securing transparency in the spending of the money.

Build relations of trust

It is also important to prepare for a major quake whose focus is directly below Tokyo, a quake that has a 70 per cent possibility of occurring within 30 years. It is urgent to boost fire resistance in areas packed with wooden houses and to improve dilapidated infrastructure, measures that are lagging behind.

Former Gov. Naoki Inose often acted too arbitrarily on his own authority. We hope Masuzoe will manage the administration of the Tokyo government in a modest manner, without becoming puffed up from his overwhelming victory.

For Masuzoe to steadily achieve his campaign promises, it is important to build a solid relationship of trust with the Tokyo metropolitan assembly, in addition to displaying leadership to lead the colossal organisation of the Tokyo metropolitan government.

 

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