The economy prevailed over nuclear power in the minds of voters in Sunday’s general election, dealing a setback to antinuclear parties, including the newly established Nippon Mirai no To (Tomorrow Party of Japan) and the Social Democratic Party.
Even so, pundits and antinuclear activists insist that although the traditionally pronuclear Liberal Democratic Party won by a landslide, securing 294 seats, a solid majority in the chamber, it doesn’t follow that the public supports nuclear power.
Nippon Mirai now has just nine seats, compared with 62 before the election. The SDP held onto only two of its five seats, while the Japanese Communist Party took eight.
Koichi Nakano, political science professor at Sophia University, said the LDP succeeded in shifting the spotlight to economic issues from nuclear energy.
LDP President Shinzo Abe, who is expected to reclaim the prime ministership next week, made headlines when he proposed revising the Bank of Japan Law to weaken the independence of the central bank and adopting a 2 percent inflation target.
The LDP, meanwhile, has shied away from declaring a clear nuclear energy policy, saying only that it will decide whether to reactivate the nation’s idled reactors within three years.
In contrast, the Democratic Party of Japan has called for a phaseout of nuclear energy by the 2030s. Nippon Mirai supports phasing out all nuclear reactors within 10 years.
In addition, the parties established in the months leading up to the election split the antinuclear vote, benefiting the LDP, Nakano said.
“The nonnuclear vote was divided, giving an advantage to the pronuclear LDP,” said Nakano. “It’s very ironic.”
The split was especially crucial in the closely fought Aichi No. 12 district.
An LDP candidate won with 32.3 percent of the vote. Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) took 24.4 percent; the DPJ 29 percent, Nippon Mirai 10.9 percent and the Japanese Communist Party 3.4 percent.
A single candidate supported by the antinuclear parties might have carried the day.
“I do believe the majority supports the nonnuclear movement, but parties calling for a nuclear phaseout cut each other’s throats,” said writer Keiko Ochiai, a member of the antinuclear group 10 Million People’s Action to say Goodbye to Nuclear Power Plants, which collected 8.2 million signatures on petitions to eliminate nuclear power.
Antinuclear groups also noted that quickly formed “third-force” parties like Nippon Mirai, which was founded just days before campaigning kicked off in early December, had little time to prepare for the election.
The groups also believe voters were suspicious of Nippon Mirai’s last-ditch tieup with Ichiro Ozawa, the leader of Kokumin no Seikatsu ga Daiichi (People’s Life First), who defected from the DPJ in July after weathering money scandal allegations and bucking against his party’s bid to raise the consumption tax.
Nippon Mirai’s Deputy President Tetsunari Iida failed to gain a seat in the Lower House.
“Even though Nippon Mirai had a clean image with Shiga Gov. Yukiko Kada (as the leader), people knew Ozawa was behind her,” said Satoshi Kamata, a journalist involved in the People’s Action group.
Unlike in 2005, when a single issue, the privatization of the national postal service predominated, Sunday’s election concerned a number of issues, from the economy to the reconstruction of the disaster-stricken Tohoku region and national security.
“Nuclear power was not able to become the single issue, and votes were divided,” said Kamata. “It was difficult for the voters to choose candidates or parties with different opinions on various issues.”
Despite the election results, polls suggest that about 60 percent of Japanese want to either gradually phase out nuclear power or abandon it immediately.
“There is some contradiction in the election results in terms of the public sentiment against nuclear power,” said Tatsuya Yoshioka, director of Peace Boat and an organizer of the Global Conference for a Nuclear Power Free World.
Yoshioka also said that a survey of about 1,000 people in Tohoku by activist groups found that even those who voted for the LDP do not support nuclear power.
Despite the setback Sunday, antinuclear groups vowed to carry their fight into the upcoming Upper House election in July.
Nevertheless, Nakano of Sophia University cautions that it takes tremendous effort to turn social activism into politics.
“Historically speaking, none of the many new parties (in Japan) were ever born out of social activism,” said Nakano. “If any party were (in the future), it would be groundbreaking.”