by Atsushi Ebihara
OSAKA, Nov. 30 (Xinhua) -- Governor Yukiko Kada of western Japan's Shiga Prefecture declared on Tuesday the formation of a new political party that will focus on shifting from nuclear energy, prior to the official start of campaigning for the next House of Representatives election.
Indications are that the new party could become one of the major "third forces" to challenge the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
"We will not aim for policies 'against' or 'suspending' nuclear power generation. As Japanese, we must advance from our current reliance on nuclear power," said Kada at a press conference that day in the prefecture's capital of Otsu City, when the 62-year- governor declared the establishment of the new party, "Nippon Mirai no To" (Japan Future Party).
Later Kada told reporters that the new party would draw a roadmap to a nuclear-free society in 10 years' time as Germany has done, adding that she was confident of meeting the target if the election results award the party a role in the government. "Local regions should now aim to create a system that uses locally generated electricity by incorporating various renewable sources, including solar and wind power."
Meanwhile, Kada said she was accelerating moves to team up with incumbent lawmakers and other supporters with similar policies, also fully working with Ichiro Ozawa, a veteran Japanese politician who had led the People's Life First party, which had planned to field 100 candidates in the 480-seat House of Representatives election on Dec. 16.
On why she is collaborating with Ozawa, Kada told reporters on Friday that, to begin with, no one can command bureaucrats to change the way they operate and reform the country unless they can utilize Ozawa's power and position.
But Kada denied she will personally run as a candidate in the election, asserting that she will continue in her second term as Shiga's governor.
The prefecture is home to Japan's biggest freshwater lake, Lake Biwa, a reservoir that provides drinking water for 14.5 million people living in the country's second biggest urban area, Kansai. The lake is located about 30 km south of aging nuclear plants in Fukui Prefecture, including the Oi reactors that were restarted before this summer's demand peak amid controversy over the safety of nuclear power in Japan.
Along with declaring the establishment of the new party, Kada also introduced six major policy points under the "Lake Biwa Declaration", according to which the party's platform will be drafted. The declaration has been signed by well-known business and opinion leaders and artists, including Kazuo Inamori, a businessman and founder of Kyocera Corporation, and well-known musician Ryuichi Sakamoto. Beyond nuclear policy, the points also emphasize the creation of a society in which everyone, particularly women and younger people, are given an important role to play, as well as bureaucratic reform so that public administration and judicial systems can be changed according to the needs of local governments.
After graduating from Kyoto University, Kada had a long stint as a sociologist at a prefectural research institute, where she studied the lake and nearby environment.
The governor of Shiga asserted that the main reason for forming the new party is that many Japanese voters have not been able to choose or find any political group that properly represents the voices of ordinary citizens and that has a clear and plausible energy policy for the future of Japan, a country that experienced the Fukushima disaster last year.
"Even after the Fukushima crisis, we have not seen any political group whatsoever provide a timely plan for the flexible phase-out of nuclear power... If we allow them to keep up this attitude, Japan will lose its dignity. Serving as a governor, I understand that many ordinary citizens in Japan are tired and frustrated with current politics, which have been unable to take decisive action on matters affecting our future," Kada said.
Soon after Kada launched the new party, the opposition People's Life First decided to dissolve and merge with her Nippon Mirai no To. People's Life First was founded in July by former DPJ leader Ozawa and other lawmakers to protest Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda 's policy goal of doubling the 5 percent consumption tax rate by 2015.
According to local media, People's Life First had initially planned to field 70 candidates in the election, advocating policies against immediate tax increases and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and for nuclear phase-out. But local reports say that all the candidates can now get official recognition from Kada 's new party.
Ozawa later admitted to reporters that his party and Kada's decided to work together simply because they share the same policies.
Following Ozawa's announcement, Takashi Kawamura, the co-leader of Genzei Nippon (Tax Cut Japan), a party against tax increases and nuclear power, also decided to merge with Kada's new party. Furthermore, the "Nuclear Phase-out" party, led by former farm minister Masahiko Yamada and former transport minister Shizuka Kamei, on Thursday officially announced their merger with Nippon Mirai no To.
Kamei also stressed to reporters that any groups wanting to push the three key political issues--nuclear phase-out, opposition to immediate tax increases and the Trans-Pacific Partnership--must gather strength as soon as possible to attract more voter support and compete against groups who cannot clearly articulate such straightforward positions.
As various "new" parties mushroom into "third forces", local media and some political analysts have begun to point out that the popularity of Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), which merged with the Sunrise Party headed by former Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara earlier in November, could further drop. This would bring it far short of creating a "third force" in Japanese politics, especially after combining the two parties.
Although Nippon Ishin no Kai had once set the goal of abolishing nuclear power generation by the 2030s, it withdrew the language from its campaign platform to obtain final approval from Ishihara. Some leaders of the Osaka-based political party are apparently irritated with the "unanticipated" moves surrounding Kada and other small parties.
Among them is Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, who is now serving as acting chief of Nippon Ishin no Kai. "An anti-nuclear group is very dangerous in some ways," said the mayor when answered questions by reporters on Wednesday, adding that voters have already forgotten about Nippon Ishin no Kai due to its vague stance on nuclear power policy following the merger.
However, the party's Secretary General and Governor of Osaka, Ichiro Matsui, denied this. But after media reported that Nippon Ishin no Kai could no longer field 241 candidates, the minimum number to secure a majority in the Diet, and is now expected to only gain approval for little more than 150, Matsui admitted they had fallen short of their initial target because they could not prepare for the soon-to-be-held election quickly enough.
Commenting on the latest political climate, Yoshiaki Yasuda, a local political expert, said to Xinhua that Kada's new party, Nippon Mirai no To, will clearly gain momentum to compete with Ishihara and Hashimoto's party, Nippon Ishin no Kai. This is because Kada started working with veteran politicians who know the major parties' weakness is that they cannot gain support from the many uncommitted voters. These voters typically want their society, which faces a long period of stagnation and a rapidly aging population, to be moderate and "citizen"-oriented. They do not want politicians who still dream of making Japan an economic powerhouse again.
"Whether a 'third force' that can challenge the ruling and the main opposition parties can be created depends on whether they can 'realistically' meet voters' demands by lending ideas from veteran politicians in the upcoming election. In that sense, Kada's party may assume the lead in Japanese politics, taking over the position which Nippon Ishin no Kai has enjoyed over the past months," Yasuda added.