No-confidence vote set for Kan Cabinet

Ozawa allies ready to back opposition tack

by Masami Ito and Natsuko Fukue

Staff Writers

The Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and Tachiagare Nippon (Sunrise Party of Japan) submitted a binding no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Wednesday evening, shaking the administration to the core as discontented members of the Democratic Party of Japan, including Cabinet appointees, threatened to support it.

The move once again underlined the feud between Kan and archrival Ichiro Ozawa, the DPJ heavyweight under indictment for funds misdeeds who has held a grudge against Kan since they faced off in the September DPJ presidential poll. Ozawa is believed poised to launch a new party.

Ozawa has said he may side with the opposition force.

Five Ozawa-loyal senior vice ministers and parliamentary secretaries of Kan’s Cabinet submitted their resignations Wednesday to vote in favor of the motion. The five are Shozo Azuma, senior vice minister of the Cabinet Office, Wakio Mitsui, senior vice minister of the land ministry, Katsumasa Suzuki, senior vice minister of the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, as well as parliamentary secretaries Takeshi Hidaka of the Environment Ministry and Akira Uchiyama of the internal affairs ministry.

Kazuhiro Haraguchi, a former internal affairs minister also close to Ozawa, is expected to vote for the motion too.

Political maneuvering by lawmakers on both sides of the feud was expected to last into the night, seeking to win over DPJ members yet to make up their minds.

A vote on the motion was expected to take place Thursday afternoon with its chances of passage very much up in the air.

If the motion clears the Lower House, the Cabinet must either resign or dissolve the chamber and hold an election.

The Japanese Communist Party, which was initially going to vote for the motion, decided to abstain, while the Social Democratic Party, which planned to vote against the motion, also decided to abstain. If all SDP members abstain, it will require 82 lawmakers or more to pass.

Of Ozawa’s roughly 100 followers, around 50 were set to support the motion, including 16 DPJ lawmakers who launched a revolt against Kan in February, while 30 are expected to vote against it. The remaining 20 members yet to make up their minds are the key to whether the motion is passed.

But even if the motion is shot down, Kan’s political leadership will be in tatters if dozens of DPJ members abstain from voting or support the motion. And his political base would be shaky at best with his party split in half.

The rift has been evident ever since Kan defeated Ozawa in the DPJ presidential election in September and excluded him and his aides from key Cabinet posts.

To gain popularity, which worked at first, Kan took an “anti-Ozawa” path, triggering harsh resentment from his rival’s aides and followers.

During a one-on-one battle in a Diet committee Wednesday afternoon, LDP President Sadakazu Tanigaki attacked Kan’s handling of the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. Tanigaki also stressed that Kan’s lack of leadership is hampering the government’s measures to rebuild the disaster area.

“The ground is crumbling at your feet,” Tanigaki said. “You have neither the integrity nor capability to bring your party together. It is causing a political vacuum and that is why I said you should step down.”

But Kan refused to do so. “I think most of the people want us to unite in the Diet and focus on (disaster) reconstruction and restoration and to resolve the nuclear plant accident,” he said. “I believe I have the responsibility to fulfill this duty.”

Kan also revealed he is considering extending the current Diet session beyond June 22.

There have been calls for an extension from within the DPJ as well as opposition parties to push the administration to draft a second supplementary budget for disaster-zone reconstruction.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said Wednesday morning that he accepted public criticism against the administration but added that he did not think the public supported the opposition camp’s move to bring down Kan.

“I don’t think it is easy for many people to understand the situation of the inner circle of (the political center) Nagata-cho,” Edano said. “The Kan Cabinet will firmly acknowledge the people’s criticism but will not (be caught) in the strife in Nagata-cho and take steps to directly face the lives of the people, including the disaster area and the nuclear plant crisis.”

Kyodo information added