Japan's unhelpful politics
Rebuilding Japan—or ruining it
A precarious future for the country, but its politicians are self-absorbed
IMMEDIATELY after the earthquake and tsunami on March 11th that crippled reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, all but one of the devices to measure radioactive matter in the area were knocked out. So the authorities in Tokyo sent up a vehicle stuffed with gauges to assess how dangerous the leakage was.
Bewilderingly, says Goshi Hosono, a politician recently appointed to oversee Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO, the utility that runs the plant), the vehicle got stuck in traffic. It then ran out of petrol at a time when the tsunami had led to a nationwide shortage of fuel. Because of this, the government abandoned the mission. Later, the government declared the Fukushima incident to be on the same level of seriousness as the accident at Chernobyl 25 years ago. Yet it had taken what Mr Hosono says was seven to ten days before the government could get reliable data on the amount of radioactive matter pouring out. During that period it became clear that a partial meltdown had taken place in at least one of the six reactors.
Such stories may leave people aghast over how haphazard has been the response to Japan’s nuclear mess. After all, at the time even journalists driving close to Fukushima were able to get petrol on the main highways. Still, to date no concrete accusations suggest that the prime minister, Naoto Kan, has comprehensively mishandled the daunting array of disasters that together make up the biggest challenge Japan has faced since the second world war. Ordinary people have a growing perception that Mr Kan easily loses his temper and they do not like that, says Koichi Nakano of Sophia University. “But there have been no clear examples where his action has been terribly damaging.”
For all that, politicians from within his own party, as well as the opposition, are plotting to oust Mr Kan. It is yet one more indication, if any were needed, of how alarmingly self-absorbed are Japan’s political classes.
On April 26th Yukio Hatoyama, a former prime minister, held a forum of 64 anti-Kan parliamentarians from the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). In fewer than nine months in office, Mr Hatoyama proved an abysmal prime minister. Since his resignation, he seems to have cast aside those memories to grow increasingly resentful of his successor. He called his forum a “Harmonious Solidarity for the Grand Coalition to Tackle the Earthquake Disaster”. Far from promoting harmony, its implicit aim was to foster a coup within the party against Mr Kan.