Thursday, May 31, 2012

Hashimoto Toru Comes Back Down To Earth

In a Golden Week post ("Chaos Awaits") I made a spectacularly wrong prediction: that private lawyers hired to prosecute Ozawa Ichiro would not bother to appeal the verdict handed down on April 26, despite noting in the very same post that the judge may have ruled Ozawa "Not Guilty," but did not like it, preferring, if he could, to rule the case against him to be "Not Proven."

[I blew it at least two ways. I overestimated the concerns the three lawyers might have as to the negative effects a continued pursuit of Ozawa would have on their images and income streams. I underestimated the likely financial rewards the lawyers could reap -- for "consultations" and "advice" from seemingly not very demanding clients -- should they continue their quixotic tilting at Ozawa.]

In the same post, I proposed three goals for the Democratic Party of Japan and Prime Minister Noda:

- carry out a public relations campaign laying out the government's reason for a need to raise the consumption tax, with the PM in particular stepping forward to sell his vision

- continue to find ways of driving wedges in between the Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito

- fail, despite their best efforts, to win the support of regional leaders in the Kansai for a restart of the Oi reactors, setting up Hashimoto Toru, an opponent of the restarts, for a fall.

The Noda government is making good progress on the first item, sending the PM into a buzz saw of a live interview on NHK's 9 o'clock news on May 17.

As for the second item, any progress that had been made, particularly in drawing the LDP and the New Komeito apart on the issue of electoral district reform, has probably been sent into reverse by the Li Chenguang Affair. The two parties will march in lock-step, together with the Your Party and the Sunrise Party, demanding a full investigation into Li's contacts with DPJ politicians.

The third item, as cynical and cold-blooded a political calculus as one can make in Japan, seems likely now to never be tested. Hashimoto has backed away from full opposition to a restart of the Oi reactors, paving the way for them to be brought back online. (E)

Hashimoto may be stubborn and a poll watcher but he is not stupid. He held his ground long enough to make his point -- that the national government is rushing the restarts, having no grounds on which to assert the safety of reactor operations under extreme conditions. However, with the surge in power consumption to come in the months of July and August and the likelihood that no matter how private persons, governments and corporations cut back on power usage, Hashimoto faced being blamed for the brownouts and timed blackouts the Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO) would have impose to preserve its transmission grid.

Once the Oi reactors are started, it will be very difficult to shut them down again. Even with the Oi reactors online, KEPCO will make it through the summer only by the skin of its teeth -- and only thanks to loss-creating shutdowns by businesses. Once the summer is over the company will want to shut down at least a few of its thermal plants for maintenance, jacking up the pressure for keeping the Oi plants online.

Given the threats the continued shutdown of the reactors pose to the economic well-being of the people of Osaka -- and their very lives, the loss of the capacity to cool living spaces or keep life-saving devices on being very real -- there was only so far Hashimoto could ride the populist anti-nuclear wave.

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