Two former prime ministers yesterday challenged Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s pro-nuclear power policy, with charismatic Junichiro Koizumi backing Morihiro Hosokawa’s bid to become Tokyo governor on a platform opposing atomic energy.
Hosokawa’s candidacy could turn the local election into a referendum on Abe’s energy policies and boost the anti-nuclear movement, which has lost momentum after a surge following the March 2011 Fukushima Dai-ichi disaster, the world’s worst nuclear accident in 25 years.
Surveys show most voters favor abandoning nuclear power, but the electorate nonetheless propelled Abe’s pro-nuclear Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) back to power in December 2012, largely because of his promises to revive the economy and divisions among anti-nuclear opposition forces.
Asked why he was coming out of retirement to seek the governor post, Hosokawa, 76, told reporters: “Because I have a sense of crisis that Japan faces various problems, especially nuclear power that could imperil the fate of the country.”
The maverick Koizumi, one of Japan’s most popular prime ministers during his 2001 to 2006 term, has already been giving Abe a headache with his anti-nuclear power pitch, a turnabout from the days when he led the LDP.
“The biggest reason why I support Mr Hosokawa is his view that Japan can prosper without nuclear power. That’s worth giving my utmost support to have Mr Hosokawa win,” Koizumi, 72, told reporters in televised remarks.
Hosokawa, heir to a samurai lineage, seized the imagination of a public weary of decades of scandal-tainted LDP rule when he formed the pro-reform Japan New Party in 1992. The next year, he took power at the head of a multi-party coalition that ousted the LDP for the first time in nearly 40 years.
However, his unwieldy coalition fractured and Hosokawa stepped down after just eight months amid a financial scandal. He was never charged, but his image as a bold reformer was tarnished, and he retired from politics in 1998.
How much of a threat Hosokawa and Koizumi pose to Abe is hard to gauge, but clearly Koizumi could be a draw on the campaign trail, while the candidacy could tap into a deep well of anti-atomic power sentiment.