The Yomiuri ShimbunThis election result should present an opportunity to calmly discuss the restart of a nuclear power plant.
Hideyo Hanazumi, who was backed by the Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner Komeito, defeated candidates including Chikako Ikeda, who was supported by five opposition parties including the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, in the Niigata gubernatorial election. Hanazumi was elected for the first time.
In recent years, ruling party candidates and candidates backed by the ruling parties in Niigata Prefecture have struggled in gubernatorial and national elections. In last year’s House of Representatives election, candidates backed by opposition parties won four of the prefecture’s six single-seat constituencies.
In the latest gubernatorial election, the LDP and Komeito limited their outward support for Hanazumi, who had described himself as representing “a party for the prefecture’s residents.” The ruling parties instead devoted their energy to mobilizing their support organizations and support groups. Their organizing ability was an element in the election victory.
Many observers believe winning the gubernatorial election, which was regarded as a showdown between the ruling and opposition parties, indicates the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which has suffered falling approval ratings, has slipped out of a difficult situation.
As Niigata had a string of governors critical of nuclear power, there have been no clear prospects for restarting operation of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in the prefecture.
In 2017, the Nuclear Regulation Authority approved an assessment report that showed the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant’s Nos. 6 and 7 reactors had passed the required safety screenings. The decision on whether to restart the reactors should be based on expert and technical viewpoints. This issue is ill-suited to being a political point of contention in a local election.
Reduce residents’ anxiety
Hanazumi indicated he does not plan to decide on whether to approve the restart of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa reactors until a Niigata prefectural investigation into the March 2011 accident at TEPCO’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is completed. His approach of avoiding a hasty decision and not making the restart issue a point of dispute is understandable.
The governor essentially has no legal authority over the restart of nuclear reactors. Hanazumi’s role is to keep making requests to the government and TEPCO as a representative of the prefecture’s residents and make efforts to alleviate their concerns.
Hanazumi has mentioned the possibility of holding another gubernatorial election “to seek residents’ confidence” after the investigation is completed. He must avoid a situation that could again split residents over the nuclear reactor issue.
It is pointed out that Niigata’s population decline has become a serious problem and the local economy also has been sluggish.
Hanazumi pledged to secure jobs for residents through steps such as promoting tourism, improving transport networks and supporting next-generation vehicle industries.
Hanazumi is encouraged to utilize his experience as a former deputy governor of the prefecture and a bureaucrat with the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry and promote policies in cooperation with the government.
The election was held because former Gov. Ryuichi Yoneyama resigned over a scandal involving his relationship with a woman. Hanazumi must quickly clean up the confusion that has been roiling the prefectural government.
The opposition parties had trumpeted the gubernatorial election as a “judgment” on the Abe Cabinet and sent party leaders to the prefecture every day. Some senior party officials even launched broadsides at the Cabinet by raising issues such as the scandal involving school operator Moritomo Gakuen, which has nothing to do with Niigata Prefecture.
Their strategy of linking the gubernatorial election to the national politics can be said to have fallen flat.