February 10, 2014
Yesterday, nuclear-neutral Yoichi Masuzoe won a decisive victory in the Tokyo governor’s election. Ever since former Governor Naoki Inose resigned in December, most of the Japanese Press has bent over backwards to make nuclear energy the key, over-riding issue. When staunchly antinuclear Morihiro Hosokawa joined in the campaign in mid-January, the Press saw this as an opportunity to make its antinuclear agenda politically successful. With Tokyo’s governor having the most influence on national policy out of all governors in Japan, the news media believed a Hosokawa victory would force PM Shinzo Abe’s regime to follow a no-nukes policy, perhaps even end the push to restart currently-idled nukes. Anti-nuclear activists were hoping the election would reinvigorate their increasingly unpopular movement, which struggles to thwart the government’s reactor restart efforts. But after the votes were in on Sunday, none of this had happened!
The Press did their utmost to present Masuzoe as “pro-nuclear”, but that didn’t work. Actually, dubbing him as pro-nuke was misleading and it seems the Tokyo electorate knew it. Japan’s Press followed the decades-old mantra of antinukes around the world – if you are not antinuclear, then you must be pronuclear. Neutrality on the issue is seen as pronuclear by those of the overtly antinuclear persuasion. Masuzoe was clearly neutral. He did his best to avoid debating nuclear policy with Hosokawa during the campaign, stating that it was a national issue and inappropriate for Tokyo’s governor to get involved with because there were no nukes in the Prefecture. However, he did advocate raising Tokyo’s renewables use from 6% to 20%, which would seem to show he was not a steadfast pro-nuke. Further, if he were actually pronuclear, he would have had a record of advocating restarts for currently-idled nukes, at the very least. But, he said nothing about restarts. Nuclear neutral? Yes. Pro-nuclear? No.
Masuzoe won because the Tokyo voters did not believe the nuclear energy issue was key. In fact, a pre-election poll run by Japan’s leading newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun, indicated that nuclear energy policy ranked a distant fifth in relative importance behind medical and welfare policies at an 84% rating, disaster preparedness at 81%, the economy and unemployment at 75%, and, anticrime and public safety at 68%. Nuclear energy was next with a 61% rating, followed by 2020 Olympics’ preparation at 52%. While nuclear policy had a modicum of significance in Tokyo’s public mind, it wasn’t that important.
When Hosokawa announced that he was running, he was immediately presented by the Press as a viable candidate, especially when harshly antinuclear former PM Junichiro Koizumi immediately voiced his support for him. They literally became a political team. Each and every public appearance made by the insufferably inseparable duo made front page headlines, and pictures of their crowds made it seem as if hundreds, if not thousands of people were hanging on their every nuclear-critical word. But, carefully-cropped Press images making crowds seem large did not turn into votes. Considering the election itself had one of the lowest voter turn-outs on record, the crowds following the two former PMs during the campaign should have translated into an overwhelming Hosokawa victory. However, the opposite happened on Sunday.
Since the majority of the Press in Japan did not get the antinuclear victory they desired, they had to place blame somewhere. Japan’s second-leading newspaper, Asahi Shimbun, blamed the antinuclear debacle on Hosokawa getting a late start and having a poorly organized campaign. (2) Hosokawa announced his largely antinuclear candidacy on January 14th. On the other hand, Mr. Masuzoe announced himself as a candidate on January 8th. The actual date at which campaigning could begin, by Japanese law, was January 22nd. During the 17 days of campaigning, Hosokawa and Koizumi made no less than 34 public appearances. Does that sound like a late start sufficient to account for Hosokawa’s crushing defeat? Of course it doesn’t. The Asahi also said its first visit to Hosokawa’s campaign office when the race officially began was disappointing – no campaign workers, leaflets, or no clear chain of command. The Hosokawa campaign wished to appear grass-roots and was using an “air-attack strategy” intended to gain instant success through a barrage of public appearances publicized by a more-then-willing Press. Regardless, the Asahi said “it was more a defeat caused by insufficient preparations by the Hosokawa camp rather than a victory for Masuzoe.” At least that’s what the Asahi wants their millions of readers to believe.
More excuses for the Press’ failure to make nuclear the determining issue came from other outlets. The popular Mainichi Shimbun quoted Hosokawa as blaming the defeat on apathy, “Ending the use of nuclear energy was not treated as seriously as it should be.” (3) On a similar note, Japan Times quoted Hosokawa as saying, “The elimination of nuclear power plants was not covered as a focal point (in the election) very often.” (4) He continued this rhetorical tactic in the Japan Daily Press where he said nuclear energy was not a major election issue because “some forces prevented it.” (5) I ask – who is Hosokawa trying to kid? Not a single day passed during the campaign without several major news articles being posted which touted nuclear energy as the most important issue before the Tokyo electorate. And, who or what are these mysterious “forces” which prevented the issue being covered during the campaign. As far as the Press was concerned – including Yomiuri Shimbun and NHK World which are arguably Japan’s most nuclear-neutral news media outlets– nuclear energy was the most news-worthy issue in the election, right up to the end.
It should be noted that an exit poll run by the Yomiuri Shimbun revealed nuclear energy to be the most important issue among “swing” (undecided) voters! (6) This was especially important because Tokyo’s major elections are often decided by swing votes, a demographic that outnumbers all party-affiliated voters combined. However, the “swing” vote didn’t result in an antinuclear victory either. Masuzoe won that facet of the race by garnering 30% of that vote, vs. 26% for Hosokawa.
Mr. Masuzoe did not win by default, as the Asahi would have us believe. He did not win because the nuclear issue wasn’t given enough attention. He did not win because Hosokawa got a late, disorganized start. In fact, Hosokawa wasn’t even second-fiddle. He came in third behind former Bar Association president Kenji Utsunomiya, who also preached the antinuclear gospel. Further, the total votes garnered by Hosokawa and Utsunomiya would not have beaten Masuzoe (2,113,000 for Masuzoe and 1,938,000 for Hosokawa/Utsunomiya combined). Mr. Masuzoe won decidedly because he addressed the Tokyo electorate’s greatest concerns. He won because he listened to the public. He won because national nuclear policy is not a determining issue with the Tokyo electorate at-large.