New Green party faces an uphill battle in Japanese election

Yukiko Kada's party faces an uphill struggle in Japanese poll, but she's beaten the odds before

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 December, 2012, 4:22am

Six years ago, academic Yukiko Kada was elected governor of Shiga prefecture on a platform of environmental protection.

Now, as Japan struggles with the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, her new party's green doctrine is being put to the test on the national stage.

Faced with a fairly entrenched two-party electoral system, Kada's Tomorrow Party of Japan - which was only set up late last month - faces an uphill struggle to win meaningful representation in Sunday's general election, but she has prevailed against the odds previously.

She was the first female to be elected governor of Shiga prefecture, which lies to the north of the cities of Kyoto and Osaka, and is only the fifth woman governor in Japanese history.

The 62-year-old has emphasised that she is not personally standing in Sunday's election as she is committed to the people of Shiga, but there is unquestionably a growing body of support for her party, the first in Japan with an overtly green philosophy.

Shortly after announcing the party's platform, actor Bunta Sugawara urged Kada to make herself into the "Japanese Merkel", after German Chancellor Dr Angela Merkel.

The two share a concern for the long-term future of the planet, with Kada coining the term mottainai, meaning "do not waste", for her 2006 election campaign.

Much of her effort then was based on protecting Shiga's Lake Biwa, the largest body of fresh water in Japan and a critically important source of drinking water for nearby cities. One of her key concerns was the safety of the Tsuruga nuclear plant to the north of the lake in neighbouring Fukui prefecture.

Seismologists this week confirmed that the plant sits atop an active fault that had not previously been identified and it is possible that Japan Atomic Power, which operates the two reactors, will be forced to decommission the plant. The utility is disputing the findings and declared them to be "totally unacceptable".

That sort of defiance does not sit well with an electorate that is still warily watching the efforts of emergency teams to clear up the Fukushima nuclear plant.

Kada's party is aiming to phase out nuclear power plants in Japan by the end of 2030.

Other policies include cancelling a plan to raise the 5 per cent consumption tax to 10 per cent by 2015, not taking part in the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact and providing 312,000 yen (HK$29,000) each year for every child through junior high school as a way of encouraging couples to have more children and reversing Japan's rapidly shrinking population.

Analysts believe her party might suffer as a result of 16 parties that have emerged in the run-up to this election and the narrow focus on the environment.

"She has been a long-time advocate for Lake Biwa and now she has become well-known for fighting against nuclear power, but that might make her a single-issue candidate," says Go Ito, a political science professor at Tokyo's Meiji University.