The restart of reactors at the Oi plant of Kansai Electric Power Co. drew hordes of protesters to the nuclear plant as well as the prime minister's office in Tokyo. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda reportedly remarked of the rally taking place outside his office, "That's a lot of noise out there."
On any divisive issue, voices of protest are bound to arise.
If Noda's choice of the word "noise" gave away his negative thinking--that such a protest will dissuade him from reaching a decision and moving on--he must think again.
Many anti-nuclear demonstrators were political independents who had never taken to the streets or attended a rally before. They were "ordinary" citizens from all walks of life who simply responded instantaneously to a call for action. Their loose solidarity is a phenomenon typical in this Internet era, as already evidenced in the United States and the Middle East.
Their commitment comes from the heart. "I just had to come here. Nothing could stop me," said a 43-year-old Shiga Prefecture woman, who brought her 2-year-old to a rally in the town of Oi in Fukui Prefecture.
Huge demonstrations and rallies, which had gone out of fashion in Japan, have returned with a vengeance after the meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 plant in March last year. The development reveals the sorry state of the nation's indirect democracy today; the will of the people is not being followed through by their elected representatives.
"Nobody wants a face-off with the riot police," said a 19-year-old university student who attended rallies in Oi as well as in front of the prime minister's office. "If given the chance, anyone would much rather speak directly to the prime minister or the KEPCO president."
Bills demanding a local referendum on nuclear power generation have been rejected by both the Osaka municipal assembly and the Tokyo metropolitan assembly. The nation's two major political parties are in favor of restarting reactors that are currently offline. This is why many citizens are taking to the streets and raising their voices, refusing to be treated as if their opinions don’t matter. Popular protest meetings, conducted in keeping with the law, are perfectly desirable under any participatory democracy.
So long as politicians and central government officials see such actions as nothing more than "protests for protest's sake," the people's mistrust for those authority figures will only grow.
For the Noda administration, which is calling for national debates on its nuclear policy, what is happening right outside the prime minister's office is anything but just "a lot of noise." On the contrary, the administration must now seek to create a system for listening directly to the people's voices that the conventional political "radar" cannot fully pick up.
We also urge the protesters to step up their efforts to force a change in the government's energy policy through their own actions.
For instance, if they are willing to accept heftier electricity bills in exchange for abandoning nuclear power generation, they should thoroughly debate among themselves how much more they are willing to pay. They should also confirm their commitment to even more aggressive power-saving efforts so they can tell the government to at least start decommissioning high-risk nuclear reactors.
And when they have completed their discussions and reached their own conclusions, they should present them to the government and the power companies--and not back off.
Voices of protest, raised in this manner, will have a greater impact on the nation's energy policy.
--The Asahi Shimbun, July 4
- « Prev
- Next »