Anti-nuclear citizen activists who have been organizing weekly demonstrations in front of the prime minister’s office were invited inside on Aug. 22 to meet with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.
But in talks lasting 30 minutes, the two sides were unable to bridge their differences. Still, it is not insignificant that they met.
It is extremely unusual for citizens who do not belong to organized groups, such as in business or labor, to be allowed to make a direct appeal to the prime minister.
Thus, this development could pave the way for a change in traditional political decision-making processes and political culture. We welcome this.
The meeting, originally planned for 20 minutes, was extended by 10 minutes.
The activists had four demands:
--A halt in operations at the Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture, which was the first to go back online after the Fukushima nuclear disaster last year;
--Not to restart other nuclear power plants;
--A shift in government policy toward decommissioning all the nation’s reactors; and
--Cancellation of proposed appointments in the lineup of a new nuclear regulatory commission.
They also argued that there is sufficient power supply even without operating reactors and that the Oi plant poses a grave danger because it is believed to be located on an active fault.
The prime minister explained the government’s policy to reduce reliance on nuclear power in the mid to long term. But he did not go beyond that.
The activists called his explanation unacceptable.
Clearly, the differences between the two sides are wide.
We feel the prime minister should have spent more time explaining where things stand. That would have made the meeting more meaningful.
Of course, the organizers behind the Friday protests do not represent public opinion at large. Nor do they necessarily represent the participants.
However, the meeting was broadcast live on the Internet and many people watched it. In this case, the Internet served the role of a new channel to link the prime minister with citizens.
The citizens’ protests are not simply directed at the decision to restart nuclear reactors.
They are also objecting to the way the government decided on the reactor restarts and the breakdown of indirect democracy, which is supposed to represent the opinions of voters.
Politicians, representatives of organizations with vested interests and a small number of experts make decisions without seeking any input from ordinary citizens. This is how decision-making works in a traditional “village society.”
A typical example is the electric power industry and the “nuclear village.”
Public distrust of the government appears to derive from popular skepticism that the interests of utilities take precedence over people’s safety.
How can the voices of citizens who do not belong to established groups be incorporated in decision-making? Deliberative polling, in which citizens are given a chance to discuss issues before forming a definite opinion, is one way to reflect public opinion in energy policy. Other options should also be available.
The meeting with the prime minister should not end as a one-shot deal, but be held again. Next time, the two sides should have candid dialogue, instead of having merely a one-sided protest.
This should be a step toward open politics.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 23
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