Japan reels as pro-nuclear party wins vast majority

People take part in an anti-nuclear demonstration. Picture: Reuters
People take part in an anti-nuclear demonstration. Picture: Reuters
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ONLY 20 months after a catastrophic nuclear disaster that triggered massive protests against atomic energy and fuelled public opinion polls backing the phasing out of reactors, a pro-nuclear has party won Japan’s parliamentary election.

The result left anti-nuclear proponents struggling to understand how the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) not only won, but won in a landslide.

The LDP grabbed 294 of the 480 seats in the lower house, while the ruling Democratic Party dwindled to a fraction of its pre-ballot presence: 57 seats, down from 230.

The Tomorrow Party, which ran on a strong anti-nuclear platform, ended up with just nine seats in Sunday’s vote.

The sharp rejection of the ruling party and comeback by the better organised LDP – which had ruled almost non-stop for the last half century before being deposed in 2009 – stunned many who expected profound change after the meltdowns and explosions at Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant that followed the 11 March, 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

But some voters put recovery ­efforts – both for the disaster-hit area and for the wider economy – as the top priority.

Mihoko Terada, 40, a mother of two in Sendai, the centre of the destruction, voted for the LDP partly because she was fed up with the Democrats’ bumbling along on recovery efforts, but mainly because it looked like the lesser of evils – and the more professional politicians.

“I didn’t go for any ideals. I went for the party that I could realistically see as getting something done for recovery,” she said, while acknowledging she was worried about radiation and nuclear plants.

Anti-nuclear voters didn’t act as a cohesive group compared to the LDP or the Komeito, a Buddhist-backed party that is expected to continue its coalition with the LDP. The two now control a two-thirds majority in the lower house, allowing them to override the less powerful upper house to pass legislation.

According to the Sankei newspaper yesterday, such voting patterns resulted in the number of pro-nuclear power MPs in the lower house rising to 346 from 132 before the election, while those opposed shrank to 123 from 339.

In some voting districts, the several candidates opposed to nuclear power together took more votes than the LDP candidate, but none on their own got more than the LDP candidate.

Hiroshi Izumi, a politics expert, said that public support for the LDP did not increase from the last election, but that votes were splintered among other parties. He added: “The election system isn’t set up to reflect public opinion at all.”

The LDP is expected to revive the kind of public spending that bolstered decades of growth following the Second World War, and push for inflation targets that will effectively curtail a rising yen – good news for the country’s industrial exporters.

Yutaka Kawakami, 34, a jewellery shop worker in Okinawa, said: “I had such big hopes for the Tomorrow Party. They were saying the most correct things. I wonder if the people who voted for the Liberal Democrats really know what their policies are.”

Kawakami, along with other sceptics, fears the LDP will boost nationalism against China, increase taxes and favour big business over small firms.

Most of all, they fear the party will restart the nation’s 48 working nuclear reactors that have remained offline since the disaster – only two are up and running.