October 22nd Japan is going to the polls for the general elections which will appoint all 465 members of the House of Representatives. 233 seats are needed for a majority. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called the surprise election hoping to take advantage of a recent bump in public support and an opposition in disarray. According to law, he needed not to call the election until December next year.
The 63-year old Prime Minister plans to stay in office if his coalition retains a majority. That would put him on course to become the longest-serving head of state in the history of Japan.
Japan’s former main opposition Democratic Party has crumbled just weeks before the election as it lost a series of members to a brand new party led by the Mayor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike. Koike unveiled her Party September 27th, giving her just 4 weeks to pull together her political force.
The two major opponents are now set to be Prime Minister Shinzo Abes Liberal Democratic Party and the newly formed Party of Hope led by the Mayor Yuriko Koike.
Just two topics clearly differentiate the two parties; sales tax and nuclear power. The issue of reactor restarts being a hot topic that sparks a lot of emotion among the public could well be a deciding topic in this election.
Prime minister Shinzo Abe has long been a strong advocate for nuclear power. Even as polls show most of the Japanese people oppose nuclear restarts, Abe has stood his ground on the controversial topic.
He has argued that reactor restarts are necessary for economic growth and to enable Japan to meet its climate change commitments. His government has issued a goal to provide 22 percent of Japan’s energy from nuclear power by 2030.
On the other side, the newly formed Party of Hope wants to phase out nuclear power by the same date.
Current polls show Abe’s ruling party on 29 percent, while Mayor Koike’s party placed second with 18 percent. Abe’s coalition has been in governance since 2012 and currently has a two-thirds majority in the lower house of Parliament. If the Party of Hope manages to significantly shrink his majority, the Prime Minister will come under greater pressure to resign as party leader when his term expires in under a year.
Two weeks away from polling day, Mayor Koikes’s party seems unlikely to win. The question, however, is if the Party of Hope manages to significantly shrink Abe’s majority. If Abe were to resign, it could be a big blow for the continuing work to restart the countries fleet of nuclear power reactors.
Following the 2011 meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi Power, all of Japan’s 42 operable reactors were shut down awaiting improvements to meet a series of regulatory requirements, as well as receive local government consent. Currently status is that only 5 reactors are back online. As of March 2017, Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) are considering restart applications for 26 reactors.