Activists against atomic plants soul-search over why like-minded parties were trounced

Nuke foes ponder election meltdown

Kyodo

The crushing defeat of third-force political parties pushing for the end of atomic power in December’s general election — even as antinuclear sentiment among the public has soared — left many activists pondering what went wrong.

Yasuko Maruko, a regular attendee at the antinuclear rallies staged Fridays near the prime minister’s office last year, was one of the activists who ran in the Dec. 16 Lower House poll, hoping groups opposed to atomic plants would break through into mainstream politics.

But Maruko, running on the ticket of the antinuclear Nippon Mirai no To (Tomorrow Party of Japan), suffered a devastating defeat in the Tokyo No. 5 constituency, finishing fifth with less than a quarter of the votes garnered by the Liberal Democratic Party’s winning candidate. The now-ruling LDP is cautious about eliminating all of Japan’s nuclear power stations.

“In the end, we were in a minority,” Maruko said. “To garner broader support, we need to be better prepared, such as by creating slogans that are easier to understand.”

Nippon Mirai was hastily founded in late November by Shiga Gov. Yukiko Kada, a vocal opponent of atomic energy, but fared miserably in the House of Representatives poll.

“Campaigning in a national election is in a different league from citizens’ movements,” said Maruko, who had to rely on donations to finance her campaign and work with supporters she got to know through the Internet. “I had to shoulder a heavy responsibility in meeting the expectations of all the people.”

The postmortem is already under way. On Dec. 22, less than a week after the election, a discussion forum in Tokyo drew around 50 participants. The promotional flyers were filled with such phrases as: “Are demonstrations useless?” and “Are rallies futile efforts?”

The wording was a direct reference to the weekly protests held outside the prime minister’s office to demand a nuclear-free society. Organizers estimated some had attracted as many as 200,000 demonstrators, and some of the activists even managed to hold a meeting with then-Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda in August.

Some of those present at the forum said voters chose to focus on the economy, viewing it as a more pressing issue than the abolition of nuclear power. Others said political parties that support phasing out atomic energy failed to campaign with a united voice.

One of the panelists was Yasumichi Noma, 46, a member of the Metropolitan Coalition Against Nukes, a group that has been organizing the rallies at the prime minister’s office. Noma said that while political parties finally “began to take notice of our voices” last summer, it will take longer for the message to reach the broader public.

“There are many people who must have felt that demonstrations can change politics,” Noma said. “As a means of expressing our will outside elections, we just need to patiently continue with them.”

Another panelist, Ikuo Gonoi, associate professor of political science at Takachiho University in Tokyo, highlighted the need for the public to become involved in politics through means other than demonstrations. “In the future, they should also join hands with LDP lawmakers whom they can work with,” Gonoi said of antinuclear activists.

Another antinuclear rally was held outside the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry on Jan. 4. One of the protesters, Etsuko Izawa, a 66-year-old homemaker from Noda in Chiba Prefecture, attributed the poll drubbing to a lack of preparation due to the abrupt dissolution of the Lower House in mid-November, just a month before the election was held.

“Although I was disappointed by the result, I expect that everyone will carefully think about the problems of nuclear power generation before casting their ballots in the House of Councilors election” in the summer, she said.

Maruko, meanwhile, has not given up hope of taking her message into the Diet. She is considering running in the Upper House poll, looking to capitalize on her electioneering experience last month.