Lawmaker looks at risks of populism

by Minoru Matsutani

Staff Writer

Shizuoka Prefecture should hold a referendum for its citizens to decide whether the Hamaoka nuclear power plant should be restarted, assembly member Takuya Abe said.

Operations at the Chubu Electric Power Co. plant were halted after Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 plant suffered three reactor core meltdowns in March 2011. The move at Hamaoka came at the advisement of then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who feared the facility’s lack of adequate protections against giant tsunami.

Some Shizuoka residents had called for a prefectural referendum on whether to restart the plant, with an eye to scrapping the facility, but the prefectural assembly quashed the proposal last year.

“We should really discuss holding referendums for matters affecting future generations, because that is part of the democratic process,” Abe said during a recent interview with The Japan Times to talk about his experience attending lectures and discussions on political science and other subjects at Georgetown University in Washington.

Abe went to the university last Oct. 21 as a participant of the Georgetown University Leadership Program, organized by the university, Amway Japan G.K. and The Japan Times. He was one of 10 politicians and journalists who took the eight-day trip to participate in GULP.

“GULP gave me a chance to rethink how I view Japanese politics,” he said, adding that the U.S. is “a big experiment in the field of democracy.”

The assembly member said the most memorable lecture was “American Creed” by political scientist Sam Potolicchio.

Potolicchio explained American history and Americans’ political views, Abe said. And in the process, he spoke about how populism can hamper the democratic process.

Abe noted that populism is also present in Japan, where the single-seat constituency system enables one political party to have a landslide victory in a general election.

Under the system, the most popular party, or the least unpopular party, tends to capture many single-seat districts.

He said candidates with little merit can win an election if they “ride a wave of populism.”

Abe said he wants to address this as a politician.

He also vowed to continue promoting Shizuoka cultural and business exchanges with municipalities in other countries.

Shizuoka has an amicable pact with Dornogovi Province in Mongolia, and 10 percent of the value of Japan’s trade with Mongolia is linked to the prefecture.

“What Shizuoka can do for Mongolia is, for example, send cancer doctors to a cancer center in Mongolia to train Mongolian doctors. Mongolia can, in return, export rare metals and rare earths to us,” he said. “We can have cultural exchanges on the one hand and business exchanges on the other.”

  • Edohiguma

    But populism wins every election, after all elections are popularity contests. It’s never the most competent candidate who wins, or the most fitting, no, it’s always the most popular one, which is the problem of democracy. Not the most qualified become chancellors, prime ministers and presidents, no, the most popular ones win. The message is irrelevant as long as you sell it right. The people will gobble it up. Take Obama, he’s incompetent, but he won anyway. Take Hollande in France, incompetent, but he won anyway. Take Faymann in Austria, incompetent, but he’s still chancellor. The list is endless.

    Hitler said it himself: “The large mass of people is blind and stupid.”

    It’s basically Miss *insert random country*, just that there are less and uglier candidates.