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Can Abe be stopped in Tokyo?

Posted January. 16, 2014 10:06,   


I have been gloomy since Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the Yasukuni Shrine. Such a move would only push further away a breakthrough in Japan`s strained ties with South Korea and China. Even the United States immediately expressed its "disappointment." Neither can I hide my disappointment over Abe, who insisted on his aesthetics despite criticisms at home and abroad.

My heart was heavy when I thought I should discuss Yasukuni again today. But then, I changed my mind. The upcoming Tokyo gubernatorial election following the former governor`s resignation over a scandal has suddenly had an interesting turn of events, as former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa announced his bid.

The Hosokawa family is an elite family with a long tradition that inherited the bloodline of a military general during the Warring States Period, and his political career has been splendid. He served as a member of the House of Councilors before serving as governor of Kumamoto Prefecture. After founding the Japan New Party, he brought down the Liberal Democratic Party`s (LDP) long-term government in 1993 and became prime minister leading a non-LDP coalition government. He was 55 years old at that time. With a fresh image, he boasted unprecedented popularity. However, he resigned just nine months later over a financial scandal, before retiring from politics in 1998. Since then, he has been living as a ceramic artist and painter. It seems that he is seething with ambition and passion again.

He has put up the banner with the slogan "break away from nuclear power plants." He decided to have challenge after seeing the Abe government seeking to build more nuclear power plants at a time when the wounds from the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster have yet to heal. Tokyo Prefecture is the largest shareholder of Tokyo Electric Power, which owns the Fukushima nuclear plant, and the biggest consumer of electric power in Japan. As Tokyo will host the Olympic Games in 2020, its "breakaway from nuclear power plants" will likely have ripple effects in the international community.

Also getting attention is whether former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who still enjoys high popularity for his unreserved remarks, will support Hosokawa. Koizumi, a member of the LDP who advocates breaking away from nuclear power, has been stepping up his arguments against nuclear power and finally teamed up with Hosokawa.

Quite a long time ago, Ryokichi Minobe won a Tokyo gubernatorial election against Prime Minister Eisaku Sato of the long-term ruling LDP under a slogan "Stop the Sato." Minobe created a "boom" by challenging the Sato government, which cooperated in the United States` Vietnam War. Although Minobe`s victory did not result in the collapse of the Sato government, it surely played a role of a brake.

This time, it will be "Stop the Abe." It is not only about the nuclear power policy. Although Hosokawa is a conservative figure, his perception of history is totally different from that of Abe and has frowned at Abe`s controversial remarks. I remember Hosokawa`s inaugural news conference 21 years ago. When asked about the past war, he cleared stated that it was "aggression." During an August 15 memorial ceremony for the war dead, he mentioned Japan`s responsibility as an inflictor toward Asia for the first time among Japanese prime minister. The practice was inherited by his successors until Abe broke it last year.

I also remember Hosokawa`s summit with the then South Korean President Kim Young-sam in Gyeongju. Hosokawa offered "genuine reflection and deep apologies as the inflictor," citing Japan`s atrocities during the colonial era. Such a clean attitude led to former Prime Minister Domiichi Murayama`s 1995 statement apologizing for Japan`s past aggressions.

Until about a year ago, Shintaro Ishihara had long served as Tokyo governor. He often created controversies with his extreme right-wing remarks challenging the central government, including one in which he said Tokyo Prefecture would buy the Senkaku Islands. On the contrary, if Hosokawa gets elected governor, it is certain that he would seek to mend fences with China and South Korea through local governmental exchanges.

Of course, there are various other election issues because Tokyo, as a megalopolis, has plenty of problems. In addition, there are other strong candidates, making it hard to think that the door of victory will open to 76-year-old Hosokawa.

Toshio Tamogami has also declared his bid with the support from former Governor Ishihara. He was dismissed from the post of chief of staff of the Air Self-Defense Force for his remarks justifying Japan`s past war. He has recently been actively working as a right-wing political commentator. How many votes can he win?

The election day is February 9. The election is not only about nuclear power. I cannot take my eyes off the election because it will also be a litmus test of Japanese people`s sense of balance at a time when the right turn in Japanese politics and public opinions is under criticism.