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What are Noda's motives?

August 23, 2012


Noda looks to tap new support, hold DPJ together with anti-nuke activist meet




Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda met with anti-nuclear activists on Aug. 22, apparently to show he is actively taking anti-nuclear sentiment among both the public and his own Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) into account ahead of the party's leadership election in September, as well as the next general election.

Noda came under mounting pressure to listen to activists' opinions as an ongoing deliberative poll on Japan's energy future shows the ratio of members of the public in favor of a zero-nuclear option is rising.

Some in the DPJ and opposition parties, however, worry that the meeting with the activists could set an undesirable precedent.

"Don't use us to get votes," said one member of an anti-atomic power citizens group during the Aug. 22 talks with Noda. "We didn't come here to play politics. We came here to stop nuclear power."

The prime minister's office had originally taken a very cautious approach to any sit-down between Noda and the activists, saying there was "no precedent for the prime minister to meet members of a citizens group." The office changed its stance only after it became clear the anti-nuclear movement was showing no signs of abating, while at the same time the zero nuclear scenario was attracting strong support in the deliberative poll.

Meanwhile, Noda has also promised the opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and New Komeito that he would dissolve the House of Representatives and hold a general election "soon," despite low public support for his Cabinet because of the consumption tax hike.

With anti-nuclear protests attracting tens of thousands of citizens and weekly demonstrations in front of his office, Noda simply can't ignore the potential power of the protesters' voices in the upcoming election. The demonstrations have attracted those who are not tied to established political parties or labor unions. The government apparently feared that these activists could join hands with a so-called "third force" in Japanese politics, such as the Osaka Restoration Association led by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto.

Also playing into the decision to have the meeting was an unwillingness on Noda's side to embarrass former Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who met with the activists at the end of July this year. During that meeting, Kan told the activists that Noda had expressed his willingness to meet with citizens groups.

Afterwards, hopes of a meeting with the PM grew among the activists, while sources close to Noda say he "agreed with Kan's assessment that we should get a better grip on public opinion" by sitting down with the citizens group.

Another major factor in behind the Aug. 22 talks is the genuine danger that the nuclear issue could split the ruling party. Three DPJ House of Councillors members left the party in July when Noda green-lighted the reactivation of two nuclear reactors in Fukui Prefecture. Meanwhile, there have been major stirrings of an "anti-Noda" candidate being fielded in the party's September leadership vote, possibly leading the prime minister to take the power of the anti-nuclear movement seriously.

Conversely, some in the DPJ as well as in opposition parties expressed reservations about Noda's meeting with the activists, with DPJ House of Councillors Affairs Committee chair Shuji Ikeguchi stating in an Aug. 22 news conference, "It is not at all desirable that people think they will get a meeting with the prime minister if they protest in front of his office."

LDP policy chief Toshimitsu Motegi, meanwhile, said that Noda "should be cautious about which representatives he meets from what section of society."

There are some in the political parties who are nervous that prime ministerial meetings with activists -- excluding party input -- will become the norm, potentially weakening their role as representatives of the Japanese people.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura tried to lay those worries to rest at an Aug. 22 news conference, telling reporters, "I think this issue has been put to rest" and that the day's meeting would be the only one. At a morning news conference on the same day, Fujimura stated, "It's very important to stress that former Prime Minister Kan worked as an intermediary" in bringing about the meeting, emphasizing that it was an exceptional response to an exceptional situation. (By Naoki Oita, Yoshitaka Koyama, Political News Department, and Hiroshi Miyajima, Economic News Department)

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