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Time for citizens to redress the national policy

June 19, 2012


Time for Japan to introduce national referendum on role of nuclear reactors




A citizens' group failed to win the hearts and minds of many members of the metropolitan assembly for its proposal to hold a local referendum to determine whether nuclear reactors in Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s service area should be reactivated. The reason for this was because many assembly people have feelings of resistance toward the local government deciding through a referendum on what the central government is supposed to be in charge of handling.

Taking a different form than an election being fought on various campaign issues, a local referendum can be used to reflect the intentions of local residents in policy. A local referendum is particularly suited to deal with issues that are closely linked to the local community such as construction of troublesome facilities and preservation of the appearance of the streets in the local community.

Nevertheless, in the latest case of the civic group's request to hold a local referendum on the nuclear reactors, even if a majority of voters voted against restarting the nuclear reactors, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has no authority to put it into effect. Moreover, Tokyo's intention could be taken to turn its back on the intention of municipalities that are hosting nuclear power plants to supply electricity to Tokyo residents.

The civic group that had called for the direct petition to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has said, "Let's decide on the rights or wrongs of the nuclear reactors through a national referendum." The civic group has already collected about 120,000 signatures for its proposal, but unlike European countries, Japan does not have a law that stipulates procedures to hold a national referendum on issues other than amendments to the country's Constitution. Therefore, the ordinance for the proposed local referendum emerged as a next best possible means under the direct claim system provided by the Local Autonomy Act.

Shinji Miyadai, a 53-year-old sociologist and one of the representatives who collected and submitted the signatures directly to the metropolitan assembly, said, "Although we are told that 'nuclear power is national policy,' people as sovereign members of society have to correct the distorted national policy." His words sound convincing when we come to look back on the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant and subsequent handling of it. The civic group collected more than 320,000 effective signatures for the direct petition to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and a similar trend is spreading elsewhere in the country, an indication that the time has come for Japan to introduce a national referendum to decide on its future path after the earthquake disasters. (By Kenji Shimizu, Tokyo City News Department)

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