Saturday, July 21, 2012

Politics: in General and More Specifically on Nuclear Power


The Wednesday Q&A, Thursday follow-up inserted(with date added), plus footnotes for this blog.

A. General political situation
1. How would you describe the current political climate in Japan? In particular, how fragile is the DPJ’s situation following the defection of Ozawa and other members?
Fluid, a situation that will continue even after a snap election, since the only combination of two parties that secures an upper house majority will be what would be an uneasy alliance at best between the DPJ and LDP. Expect more defections from the anti-VAT hike, anti-nuclear (whatever that means), anti-TPP crowd, and anther likely shakeup after the 2013 upper house election. The DPJ’s situation will look increasingly fragile as the realization sinks in for the remaining anti crowd that it’s not going to be easy to run for reelection under a VAT-hike, nuclear startup, TPP(?) platform in the first place, a prospect that becomes even more difficult when you’re actually opposed to it.
2. What is, in your view, the likelihood of a resignation/dissolution of the Lower House this year?
Extremely high. It’s the arithmetic. The LDP and Komeito want a snap election now now, and the DPJ-PNP coalition does not have the votes to push the deficit bond authorization bill through the upper house or override it with a lower house supermajority. Theoretically, the coalition could still carry the upper house if it can bring all the other parties on board for the vote. Most of them, perhaps all except the Your Party, don’t want a snap election, but Ozawa propping up Noda? The Communist Party? (Q: So do you mean the ruling coalition doesn’t want a snap election, but will be forced to have one because they’re too divided?) (Jul. 19) General political situation
3. How would you describe the current political climate in Japan? In particular, how fragile is the DPJ’s situation following the defection of Ozawa and other members?
Fluid, a situation that will continue even after a snap election, since the only combination of two parties that secures an upper house majority will be what would be an uneasy alliance at best between the DPJ and LDP. Expect more defections from the anti-VAT hike, anti-nuclear (whatever that means), anti-TPP crowd, and anther likely shakeup after the 2013 upper house election. The DPJ’s situation will look increasingly fragile as the realization sinks in for the remaining anti crowd that it’s not going to be easy to run for reelection under a VAT-hike, nuclear startup, TPP(?) platform in the first place, a prospect that becomes even more difficult when you’re actually opposed to it.
4. What is, in your view, the likelihood of a resignation/dissolution of the Lower House this year?
Extremely high. It’s the arithmetic. The LDP and Komeito want a snap election now now, and the DPJ-PNP coalition does not have the votes to push the deficit bond authorization bill through the upper house or override it with a lower house supermajority. Theoretically, the coalition could still carry the upper house if it can bring all the other parties on board for the vote. Most of them, perhaps all except the Your Party, don’t want a snap election, but Ozawa propping up Noda? The Communist Party?
(Q: So do you mean the ruling coalition doesn’t want a snap election, but will be forced to have one because they’re too divided?) (Jul. 19) My point is that the ruling coalition no longer has the upper house votes to pass, among other things, the deficit bond authorization bill, for which it will have to offer a snap election to get the LDP (and Komeito) to agree. It could theoretically get it done with Ozawa+Komeito support, but that’s preposterous.
5. If it occurred, what could be the consequences on the nuclear debate? I’m thinking particularly about the process to nominate the members of the Nuclear regulatory council, and the definition of a new energy policy.
Minimal, unless the DPJ and LDP cannot muster a post-election majority between the two. (Q: Do you mean there will be an alliance between DPJ and LDP? (Jul. 19) Sooner or later, I think. Otherwise, it’s deja supergridlock all over again.) And not as much as you think even if they don’t, barring a sea change in the lower house balance that tosses both of them out of power. The initial members of the NRC can be appointed without the consent of the two houses, if it comes to that (a good example of the devil in the legislative details). Nuclear power plants sitting on active fault lines will be mothballed, likely forever, while the others gradually come back online over the short-term (~2 years), although the mid-term (2~5 years) outlook for the ones under construction are a little more iffy. These things have some obvious, relatively hard-to-move consequences for the long-term. (Power plants, even gas turbines, last a long time.) Beyond that, I’m not willing to read anything into hypothetical election results.
(Rather than the result of elections, my intended question was more on whether the political void of an election would lead to the suspension of all important decision-making, hence possibly delaying the process to restart other plants, NRC nominations, etc. (Jul. 19)
Good question. The NRC nominations are likely to take time anyway, since it’s harder than finding five virgins in a hippie commune, as Dan Rather would say. A major post-election shakeup in party alliances—the Big Bang we’ve all been waiting for?—would certainly push the schedule back more than the few weeks, if that much, from a more modest election outcome and bring more uncertainty to the overall outcome.)

B. Debate on nuclear energy
1. How important is the nuclear issue in Japanese politics right now?
This is a very broad question, with such a broad array of potential answers. The proportion of the Japanese public that says no to nuclear power forever and ever is actually small. That means that we have the nuclear version of the old joke that begins with the line, “Will you sleep with me for a hundred bucks?” Note that even Hashimoto caved, if only for the peak-load summer doldrums. But the fear is genuine, the poll numbers are fairly evenly split on the Oi startup with few not having an opinion (as opposed to party preferences, where half or more now routinely say none of the above), and skewed significantly by gender (women are significantly more fearful). Give up the pro-nuclear vote to the DPJ and LDP and you still have half the electorate to fight over with the other mini-and micro-parties. Those are pretty good odds, if nuclear power were the only issue that mattered.
2. How are the main parties positioning themselves on this subject? (perhaps they’re divided?)
The DPJ by definition has positioned itself on the startup side. I’m not sure that the LDP has taken a vote on it, but I’m pretty sure that the institutional answer, if there were one, would be the same. Of course they’re divided—even the LDP has its Taro Kono constituency—but again, it’s not really an either-or issue; even Hashimoto consented to the Oi restarts. Of course everyone is playing the blame game around Fukushima and the broader handling of nuclear power leading up to in, as well as the post-Fukushima startup process. But most if that is really tactical.
3. What arguments are they using to weaken/attack the DPJ?
By “they” meaning? The LDP is attacking the disaster response, and the others are claiming that Noda is in big business’s pockets, no? What’s really striking is the fact that you have to ask, and I don’t have good answers. Specifically, the usual suspects—the SDP and the Communists—are not significant players. This is not an establishment vs. anti-establishment, progressive vs. conservative confrontation; it’s a post-partisan national question.
4. How is the DPJ trying to balance public concerns about nuclear safety vs. business interests?
The Noda administration has been playing it by ear, setting up processes and institutions that it hopes will enable a significant number of nuclear power plants to come back online over what I believe are the next couple of years. They’re going to let future administrations determine what to do with nuclear reactors that reach their 40th birthdays. I don’t think that they’ve given serious thought to the ones already under construction, nor are they willing to talk about them if they have.

C. Public consultation process on energy policy
1. How would you characterize this process from the point of view of democracy? (I personally suspect it’s a way of dodging the issue of a referendum, while giving the government’s final decision a veneer of democracy, but you might disagree)
The important thing to remember is that most people knew squat about nuclear power and energy in general before the process and will know squat after it. I know that, because I’m one of those people [who know squat*], and I probably send more time on energy issues than 95% of the Japanese population. (I’m counting babies, infants, and my 86 year old mom.) What the process really is about is the same as the climate change debate. The utilities and administrators have to lay out all the cards on the table, and let the experts—academics in disciplines that you didn’t know quite existed, scientist-activists, and, yes, EPCO engineers—hash it out in public, have the media cover the spectacle with their vari-tinted glasses and all, and let a fuzzy consensus emerge that marginalizes the obviously advocacy-only folks. And then, at some point, we put some things to a vote. Most of the time, we leave even that up to the people that we’ve chosen to pay to have them vote on our collective behalves. We’re no longer a small band of hunter-gathers looking for the next place to pitch camp. Informed consent is the last thing that we can afford. That said, the DPJ has not done a good job of managing the process. It’s a chronic feature of their makeup. I’ve suggested today in an email discussion that the DPJ change its name, just to change its luck, and I had three suggestions: Glossolalian Party (speaks in multiple tongues)
The Brownian Movement (for obvious reasons)
NOVA (as in kablooey)
2. Please explain the notion of 「国民の理解を得る」 (seek the understanding of the Japanese people)** in Japanese politics, taking as an example Noda’s decision to restart nuclear plants. (To some observers, including myself, it seems that the idea is often to present the government’s perspective before implementing the policy – in other terms, that the final decision is a foregone conclusion)
Good point. But it may be a case of close but no cigar. See the former 噂の真相 editor talk about efforts to relocate the Futenma helicopters:
“田中防衛大臣は「日米合意に従って、辺野古に基地をつくりたい。そのために、県民の理解を求めたい」(seek the understanding of the Okinawa people…to build the base at Henoko)**とバカの一つ覚えのセリフを棒読みするだけだった。これまで、何人の防衛担当者が沖縄を訪れたことか。皆、全く同じセリフを繰り返すだけだった。” So it’s not always a “foregone conclusion.” (Actually, this may be a misleading analogy. Discuss.)

D. Monday’s anti-nuclear rally
1. How would you characterize the scale/significance of this event in the context of contemporary Japanese history? Dunno. There’s no way to compare it with the Friday demonstrations because this one was held on a a national holiday with an environment-friendly narrative. I’d like to see the figures for previous years as well as the turnouts for Earth Days. And May Day turnouts too.***
2. What kind of impact is it likely to have on the political situation? (I read this morning that some DPJ members decided to leave the party because of their dissatisfaction over the nuclear issue)
The rally? None. But see answer to B.1.

* Words added for the blog just so there’s no misunderstanding between us. I only know enough about energy and more specifically electric power to ** Some translation added for the non-bilingual. *** Friday crowds upside of 20,000 at peak according to government estimates. Taken out of context, one could mistake 200,000-plus? Monday crowd for massive upsurge.

2 comments:

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Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing.