Former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa will pledge in his campaign for the Feb. 9 Tokyo gubernatorial election to set out a road map for Japan to break with nuclear power generation by 2020, according to a close aide.
“By making 2020 his target year, he will change Tokyo and Japan, with the focus on a complete end to nuclear energy,” Shusei Tanaka, who was a special adviser to Hosokawa during his 1993-1994 prime ministership, said Friday in an interview.
With Tokyo slated to host the Olympics in 2020, Hosokawa, if elected, will “present (the road map) at the Olympics as an example” to the international community, Tanaka said.
Also in the event of a Hosokawa victory, “Japan will never be able to restart nuclear reactors,” Tanaka said, adding, “No restart of reactors means ‘zero’ nuclear power generation.”
Hosokawa’s decision to run has made the outcome of the Tokyo gubernatorial race harder to predict, since he is backed by Junichiro Koizumi, who remains popular with voters more than seven years after leaving the prime minister’s office.
The two former prime ministers were brought together by their common goal of phasing out nuclear energy, and Hosokawa is expected to be the main rival of former health minister Yoichi Masuzoe.
Hosokawa is slated to announce his candidacy and campaign pledges on Wednesday after postponing the press conference twice.
In the absence of strong contenders, the 65-year-old Masuzoe was expected to be able to cruise to victory when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party pledged earlier this month to support him.
But the Hosokawa-Koizumi alliance changed the picture, prompting the LDP to go on the defensive. The ruling party is now reassessing the possibility of a Masuzoe victory amid persistent public distrust in the safety of nuclear power in Japan and the robust attention Koizumi always garners.
“Mr. Hosokawa is past tense, but we have to watch out for Mr. Koizumi, who is still very popular,” said a senior LDP member in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly.
According to a source in the Hosokawa camp, he is also considering apologizing for the money scandal that ended his stint as prime minister in just nine months and explaining why he once opposed Japan hosting the 2020 Olympics.
In an interview in a book published by journalist Akira Ikegami last year, Hosokawa said Japan would be praised around the world if Prime Minister Shinzo Abe were to give up on Tokyo hosting the Olympics because of the problems at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
As prime minister, Hosokawa formed a ruling bloc to end the LDP’s 38-year rule in August 1993. But in 1994, he was found to have borrowed ¥100 million from a transport firm in September 1982, allegedly off-the-book funds, before he was elected as the governor of Kumamoto.
Hosokawa, 76, has been away from politics and making pottery since he quit the Lower House in May 1998.
Ahead of the Tokyo gubernatorial race, the LDP will have to go through another challenging local election in Okinawa. In Nago, an LDP-backed candidate has to upset incumbent Mayor Susumu Inamine, who is seeking a second four-year term and opposes the hosting of a new U.S. military base amid safety concerns.
The dominant party wants to avoid seeing LDP-backed candidates lose both Sunday’s Nago mayoral election and the Tokyo gubernatorial election.
If that happens, opposition parties such as the Democratic Party of Japan will likely be able to step up pressure over pressing national issues when the Diet opens later this month.
Since Abe became prime minister for the second time in December 2012, the LDP-led government has moved toward restarting idled nuclear reactors and exporting the country’s nuclear technology.
As the Hosokawa-Koizumi alliance is widely expected to put emphasis on their anti-nuclear agenda in the gubernatorial campaign, the LDP leadership is trying to weaken the pair’s momentum by calling attention to other issues related to voters in Tokyo, such as the shortage of day-care centers and the rapidly aging population.
LDP executives including Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga have asserted that energy policy is the realm of the central government, not the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.
Many voters, however, may cast ballots for anti-nuclear candidates because the man-made Fukushima disaster, triggered by the massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, raised questions about the viability of Japan’s future.
Naoto Kan of the DPJ, also a former prime minister, is urging Tokyo residents in his blog to concentrate on backing Hosokawa if they think Japan should phase out nuclear power, calling Hosokawa’s run “a nightmare for the LDP.”
“Japan has faced many problems, and the issue of nuclear power generation leads to the fate of this country,” Hosokawa said after securing Koizumi’s support.
In an apparent bid to foil Hosokawa’s challenge, Suga posed a question about the way Hosokawa quit as prime minister in April 1994 after being in office for only about nine months.
“He resigned over a money scandal involving Sagawa Express Co. We’ll see how Tokyo citizens take that,” Suga said Tuesday.