Prime Minister Naoto Kan survived a no-confidence motion Thursday after suddenly announcing his intention to resign once disaster-hit Tohoku is back on its feet and the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant is safely under control.
Kan’s abrupt announcement barely prevented the ruling Democratic Party of Japan from falling apart, as dozens of members close to DPJ heavyweight and Kan rival Ichiro Ozawa refused to vote against Kan.
Kan survived easily by a vote of 293 to 152 in the 480-seat chamber, which included 15 DPJ and 15 opposition abstentions.
Although the public nature of the Kan-Ozawa feud has apparently been settled by Kan’s announcement, the internal conflict is likely to drag on as the two sides jockey to get one of their own voted in as prime minister.
“I would like to hand over my responsibility to the younger generation once the situation over this great earthquake reaches a certain point,” Kan said at a party gathering. But until then, “I would like to fulfill my duties along with all of you.”
Kan did not mention when he would actually quit, creating further discord over the timing of his exit.
Ex-Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who spoke with Kan, his foe, before the gathering, said the timing was linked to legislation.
“We agreed that the prime minister will resign after disaster-related legislation clears the Diet and the second supplementary budget is drafted,” Hatoyama said.
However, Secretary General Katsuya Okada said later in the day that the passage of disaster-related legislation and the compilation of the extra budget are not necessarily linked to the timing of Kan’s resignation.
In a written pact between Kan and Hatoyama, they agreed to keep DPJ, which holds a numeric Lower House majority, intact so the LDP cannot return to power, and together work toward the reconstruction of the disaster-hit areas. Kan’s resignation timing was not mentioned.
Ozawa followers who planned to vote for the no-confidence motion changed their minds after Kan’s offer to quit.
Had the motion prevailed, Kan would have had no choice but to resign immediately or dissolve the Lower House and call a snap election.
Ozawa, who declared he would support the motion, ended up abstaining with dozens of other opposition politicians, including those from the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party.
Ozawa loyalist Kenko Matsuki and DPJ colleague Katsuhito Yokokume, who intends to quit the party anyway, both voted for the motion. Fourteen other DPJ members, including former LDP Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka, abstained.
The DPJ is not planning to punish Ozawa over his move as his party membership is already suspended due to his indictment. Hatoyama planned to vote for the motion but said he changed his mind after successfully convincing Kan to offer his future exit.
“I came to this decision because I was able to get confirmation that Prime Minister Kan would step down . . . but this is not the end of everything,” Hatoyama stressed. “The prime minister decided to step down and we must take procedures to ensure that it is actualized.”
Hatoyama also urged fellow DPJ lawmakers to unite and reject the no-confidence motion after Kan offered to step down.
“We are in the face of a national crisis and we may trigger public criticism if the DPJ comes apart,” Hatoyama said. “I would like to ask all of you . . . to unite and act together.”
At the party gathering, lawmakers said they were dissatified by the lack of communication in the party, especially with the executive members.
They said the situation created a rift, but toward the end they showed an air of unity and most moved to reject the no-confidence motion.
“We must walk the path that will not let the DPJ fall apart nor let the Liberal Democratic Party take over again,” Kan said, calling for unity.
Just one day before the vote, the DPJ was on its way to being torn asunder after many lawmakers, including Ozawa and Hatoyama, who threatened to support the bid to oust Kan. Five senior vice ministers and parliamentry secretaries in the Cabinet also submitted their resignations Wednesday to support the vote.
At a hotel in Tokyo Wednesday night, Ozawa met with more than 70 of his allies, including former Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka and internal affairs minister Kazuhiro Haraguchi. According to participants, all but one was set to support the no-confidence motion.
After Thursday’s vote, Haraguchi did not directly explain why he changed his mind. He only pointed out that the LDP was also to blame for the failure to secure the safety of the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
“We cannot let the prime minister alone to take responsibility” for the disaster, Haraguchi said. Internal dissatisfaction with Kan has been growing since September, when Kan beat Ozawa in the party’s presidential race and the prime minister took an “anti-Ozawa” course to gain public support.
The LDP and New Komeito selected the timing to bring Kan down. But Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano slammed the bid, saying it just created more political confusion at a time when Japan was trying to over come a major crisis.
“I don’t think the public can tolerate that (no-confidence motion) based on the logic of Nagata-cho amid the current disaster,” Edano told reporters Thursday morning.
The vote of no confidence was jointly submitted Wednesday evening by the LDP, New Komeito and Tachiagare Nippon (Sunrise Party of Japan). During the Lower House plenary session Thursday afternoon, LDP Vice President Tadamori Oshima slammed Kan’s sudden decision to step down.
“The way you shamelessly continue to change course shows what kind of person Prime Minister Kan is and what kind of (government) the Kan Cabinet is,” Oshima said. “To sum up, you are an opportunist without principles. You aim to please by altering your opinions and behavior on occasion.”
Iwate Gov. Takuya Tasso, a close aide of Ozawa, said separately all the moves in Nagata-cho are fine if they result in building more powerful regime to support survivors of the deadly quake and to rehabilitate the disaster areas.
“I don’t mind if they were doing (the political battle) to strengthen the support for the victims of the disasters and to rehabilitate and reconstruct (the quake- and tsunami-hit areas),” said Tasso at the press conference in Tokyo.
Tasso defended Ozawa’s move to oust Kan, saying that he believes Ozawa took such action to built a regime that can execute policies more quickly.
Key events in Kan administration
June 4, 2010: Naoto Kan is elected the 94th prime minister in the Diet after being chosen by the ruling Democratic Party of Japan as its new president.
June 8: Kan Cabinet debuts.
June 17: Kan expresses his intention to raise the sales tax.
July 11 DPJ-led ruling bloc loses its Upper House majority in an election.
Aug. 10: Cabinet endorses a statement in which Kan apologizes for Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of its annexation.
Sept. 14: Kan is re-elected DPJ leader, defeating sole challenger and archrival Ichiro Ozawa, an ex-DPJ leader.
Sept. 17: Kan reshuffles his Cabinet.
Nov. 1: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visits Kunashiri Island, one of the Russian-held islands claimed by Japan.
Nov. 22: Kan sacks Justice Minister Minoru Yanagida over his comments widely taken as deriding his duty to respond to Diet questioning.
Nov. 26-27: Extra budget for fiscal 2010 enacted. The House of Councilors adopts censure motions against Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku and transport minister Sumio Mabuchi.
Jan. 14, 2011: Kan again reshuffles his Cabinet.
Jan. 31: Ozawa is indicted for alleged violation of the Political Funds Control Law.
Feb. 22: DPJ decides to suspend Ozawa’s party membership following his indictment.
March 6: Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara resigns over his receipt of illegal donations from a South Korean resident of Japan.
March 11: Magnitude 9.0 earthquake strikes off the Tohoku coast, triggering massive tsunami and crippling the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. A state of atomic power emergency is declared. Historic Self-Defense Forces relief mobilization is ordered along with massive U.S. military effort.
March 19: Kan asks Liberal Democratic Party chief Sadakazu Tanigaki to join the Cabinet, but the offer is rejected.
March 29: Fiscal 2011 budget is enacted.
April 10, 24: DPJ suffers defeat in nationwide local elections.
May 2: Diet enacts the first supplementary budget for fiscal 2011.
May 6: Kan asks Chubu Electric Power Co. to halt the Hamaoka nuclear plant.
May 21-22: Kan visits quake-hit areas with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and South Korean President Lee Myung Bak. They hold a trilateral summit in Tokyo.
May 26-28: Kan attends the Group of Eight summit in Deauville, France, followed by the Japan-EU summit in Brussels.
June 1: The LDP, New Komeito and Tachiagare Nippon (Sunrise Party of Japan) submit no-confidence motion against Kan to the Diet.
June 2: Kan survives the no-confidence vote but says he will step down after dealing with the quake-tsunami disaster and Fukushima nuclear crisis.