Monday, December 29, 2014

Election 2016 (oops): Keep an Eye on Saga Prefecture

The December 14 lower house election had no effect whatsoever on the nuclear power plant restarts, and the April unitary local elections won’t either, for the most part. But Saga Prefecture, which hosts the Genkai Nuclear Power Station, bears watching. Let me explain.

Of the five prefectures holding gubernatorial elections in the April unitary local election that host nuclear power plants, Hokkaido, Fukui, and Shimane will have highly popular pronuclear incumbents running for reelection, while one, Fukushima doesn’t count because the Fukushima Dai-ni power plants will not be restarted. By far the most interesting race is in Saga Prefecture since most of the conservative vote will be split between two pronuclear candidates, one supported by the LDP, the other by the agricultural cooperatives—remember that the Abe administration is not only pushing TPP but also directly challenging the Japan Agricultural Cooperative Association (JA)—and Professor Yukihiro Shimatani, an environmental engineer at Kyushu University, is standing for the antinuclear forces.

The antinuclear candidate looks like a long shot. He is a helicopter candidate with no discernable local ties running in a deeply conservative prefecture where the LDP currently holds 28 out of the 39 seats (including two vacancies) in the prefectural assembly. The Japan Communist Party (JCP), with just one incumbent but with considerable boots on the ground, will help, but will also limit Shimatani’s upside. The five seat Prefectural Citizens Network, a coalition of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP), should provide some help from the junior-partner, antinuclear SDP, but that’s it. It would require a perfect storm where a charismatic Shimatani succeeds in convincing the voters that he is not a one-issue candidate while keeping nuclear power and its alternatives front and center of his campaign—and the pronuclear candidates neatly split the vote—for him to get elected. Still, it’s not implausible. And none of this would have become possible if the incumbent hadn’t resigned to run, successfully, in the December 14 lower house general election.

So keep an eye on the Saga gubernatorial...especially if you hold Kyushu Electric Power Company stock.

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