What we’re watching: Macron has a problem on the left, Japan’s nuclear option, the election no one cares about

Japan goes nuclear to wean itself off Russian energy

Russia’s war in Ukraine is pushing notoriously slow Japan to make unusually quick policy changes. In mid-March, Tokyo backed away from its decades-long effort to negotiate with Russia over the return of the disputed Kuril Islands. Now he is ready to give up Russian energy, which resource-poor Japan needs to keep the lights on. (Tokyo has joined Western sanctions against Russia but has yet to ban imports of Russian oil and natural gas.) Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced on Thursday that Japan will restart its mothballed nuclear reactors – a big problem because nuclear energy is a very sensitive subject in the only country to suffer an attack with atomic weapons. Also, a tsunami in 2011 caused the Fukushima disaster, the worst nuclear accident in the world since Chernobyl. This has led Japanese public opinion to sour on nuclear, but now a majority supports Kishida’s plans, which also aim to help the country become carbon neutral by 2050. Interestingly, the announcement comes just days after a top Japanese investor confirmed a $21 billion natural gas deal. project in Siberia despite uncertainty over Russian sanctions and fears that Russia will cut off Japan first.

Will the left make Macron a lame duck?

President Emmanuel Macron triumphed in last month’s presidential election despite a tighter-than-expected race for the Élysée. But it still faces stiff competition. A ragtag of four left-wing parties have now joined forces ahead of June’s legislative elections to try to block Macron’s legislative agenda. After what appeared to be laborious negotiations, Jean-Luc Mélenchon – who leads the far-left France Insoumise (LFI) party and narrowly finished third in the first round of the presidential election – convinced the Communist parties and socialist to join a bloc he has already formed with the Greens. (Although the leadership has agreed, the deal still needs to be approved by the Socialist Party’s national committee.) The LFI-led bloc wants to thwart Macron’s ability to do anything in the National Assembly, especially his promise to raise the retirement age by 62. at 65. If they succeed in depriving Macron of a parliamentary majority, the president could be forced to appoint a leftist prime minister to lead the legislative agenda. Will the titular Rebirth image change lead to another triumph?

What we don’t know: Hong Kong’s ‘elections’

Some 1,500 Hong Kongers go to the polls on Sunday to “vote” for the chief executive. The quotation marks indicate that the process is a total sham for two reasons. First, there is only one candidate, John Lee. Lee, a former top cop handpicked by China, will succeed Carrie Lam, who declined to seek a second term after five tumultuous years in office marred by political unrest in the streets and the pandemic. Second, the chief executive is not chosen by popular vote, but rather by a small group of pro-China politicians and tycoons who always choose – you guessed it – whoever Beijing tells them to choose. In fact, the most important thing about this year’s elections is that they are happening at all, given that they were postponed for three months due to COVID. What’s next for Hong Kong under its new leadership? Lee says he wants to restore the territory to its former glory as the region’s business hub. It won’t be easy under China’s direct control and its zero-COVID policy, both of which have led many foreign businesses to leave or relocate to Singapore.