The outcome of the Feb. 9 Tokyo gubernatorial election could seriously affect the policies of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government.
Former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa is calling for an immediate end to nuclear generation in his election campaign, while Tokyo voters are under scrutiny as residents of a region that consumes massive volumes of electricity.
Evacuation orders are still in place for some residents around the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, and interest in the central government’s energy policy remains strong. There is a possibility that the Abe government may be pressured to review its energy policy depending on how Hosokawa and anti-nuclear candidates like Kenji Utsunomiya, the former president of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, fare in the Tokyo election.
Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said in a stump speech for Hosokawa in front of JR Shinjuku Station on Jan. 23, ”The Tokyo gubernatorial election this time will have a bigger impact on national politics than any previous elections.”
The Nuclear Regulation Authority has conducted safety screenings with an eye to restarting idled nuclear reactors, and the central government cannot ignore the outcome of the Tokyo gubernatorial election when deciding whether it will approve restarts or not.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is supporting former Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Yoichi Masuzoe, who approves of the restarting of reactors, while trying to divert public attention to social security and disaster-prevention measures. The pro-nuclear positions held by Masuzoe and former Air Self-Defense Force chief Toshio Tamogami are similar to that of Prime Minister Abe. If either of the two candidates wins, the central government is expected to proceed with measures to restart Japan’s idled reactors.
The Abe government has postponed a Cabinet decision on a basic energy program, a guiding principle for the nation’s mid- and long-term energy policy, until after the Tokyo election. Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told a news conference on Jan. 14 that the government needs to conduct more in-depth debate on the issue of final disposal sites. His remarks were interpreted as suggesting a revision of the original energy program.
The LDP’s energy policy parliamentary league on Jan. 23 proposed reviewing the program, which states that nuclear power is an important basic source of electricity. Its coalition partner New Komeito has also taken issue with the program, which calls for steadily promoting the nuclear fuel cycle. If an anti-nuclear candidate wins in the Feb. 9 election, the Abe government will be pressured from those inside the ruling camp to revise the basic energy program. (By Miho Suzuki, Tokyo Political News Department)