TOKYO Jan 14 Two former Japanese prime
ministers challenged incumbent Shinzo Abe's pro-nuclear power
policy on Tuesday, with charismatic Junichiro Koizumi backing
ex-premier 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 disaster, the world's worst nuclear
accident in 25 years.
Surveys show most voters favour 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 Tokyo
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 2001-2006 term, has already been giving Abe
a headache with his anti-nuclear power pitch, a turnabout from
the days when 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," a
silver-haired 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.
But 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, taking up pottery instead.
How much of a threat the Hosokawa-Koizumi duo poses 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 even as the government seeks to
restart nuclear reactors off-line since the Fukushima disaster.
A tsunami crashed into the plant on March 11, 2011, causing
fuel-rod meltdowns, radioactive contamination of air, sea and
food and triggering the evacuation of 160,000 people in the
world's worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986.
"Given that the LDP government has been seeking to resume
nuclear power generation slowly and quietly without drawing too
much popular attention, Hosokawa's candidacy is bad news in
itself," said Sophia University professor Koichi Nakano.
"What Hosokawa and Koizumi show is that the anti-nuclear
hopes are not held just by left-wing radicals, but also by a
good number of middle class including even those who are
A survey by the local Tokyo newspaper showed that about
two-thirds of Tokyo voters want to exit nuclear power sooner or
later, while just over nine percent back the government policy.
A government panel said last month that Japan should embrace
nuclear power as an "important and fundamental" energy source,
rejecting the previous government's plan to abandon atomic
energy after the meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co's
Fukushima Daiichi plant.
Still, Hosokawa's age and the way he left office could cloud
the outlook for his campaign.
"Hosokawa has little direct contact with Tokyo and Tokyo
governor elections are more about name recognition and local
connections than policies," said Jeffrey Kingston, director of
Asian Studies at Temple University's Japan Campus.
The capital does not host any nuclear plants but the Tokyo
Metropolitan Government holds a 1.2 percent share in Tokyo
Electric Power, giving it a platform to make proposals about its
operations and management.
The Tokyo poll follows the resignation in December of
then-governor Naoki Inose - three months after he helped the
capital win its bid for the 2020 Olympics - over his receipt of
50 million yen ($484,000) from a scandal-hit hospital chain.
Other candidates include former Health Minister Yoichi
Masuzoe, 65, running as an independent with LDP support and
former air force chief of staff Toshio Tamogami, who resigned in
2008 after denying in an essay that Japan was the aggressor in
World War Two. He heads the nationalist group "Gambare Nippon"
(Stand Firm! Japan).
($1 = 103 yen)
(Additional reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto; Editing by Nick