The timing of Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s resignation caused a political storm Friday, after he indicated he may stay put for months before actually exiting.
During a news conference late Thursday night, Kan indicated he will step down once the government has successfully brought the troubled reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 plant to “cold shutdown” status.
But according to an earlier road map by Tokyo Electric Power Co., the utility aims to achieve this by January, whereas many of Kan’s enemies had expected him to step down as early as the end of this month.
Ex-Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama claimed that during a one-on-one meeting Thurday, Kan vowed to step down after the enactment of a basic bill outlining the reconstruction of the disaster-hit Tohoku region and after the draft of the second supplementary budget for fiscal 2011 was clearly on track for enactment.
“We are both politicians and we live up to promises we made verbally,” Hatoyama told reporters Friday morning. “If (Kan) won’t, he is a con man.”
On Friday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, the prime minister’s closest ally, said Kan and Hatoyama seem to have different views regarding the timing of his resignation.
“Unfortunately, there seems to be a gap in their understanding,” Edano said.
“From the viewpoint of the public, I think (Kan and Hatoyama) need to make sure there is no inconsistency and prevent political confusion.”
On Thursday, Kan barely managed to persuade dozens of rebellious lawmakers in his Democratic Party of Japan, including Hatoyama and followers of party heavyweight Ichiro Ozawa, to vote down a no-confidence motion submitted by opposition parties at the Lower House.
Before the vote, Kan promised his party members that he would “hand over his responsibilities to the younger generation” after the government makes tangible results “to a certain degree” to resolve the disaster-hit Tohoku region and the leaking Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. Most lawmakers believed Kan would step down before next month.
As anger toward Kan intensified Friday within the DPJ, the prime minister is also being assailed by the opposition camp.
Executives of the Liberal Democratic Party said the party would cooperate only to enact the basic reconstruction bill and nothing further.
Despite Kan surviving the no-confidence motion Thursday, the political outlook remains bleak as he is unlikely to gain the opposition camp’s cooperation necessary to pass various key bills in the divided Diet.
Bills that require approval during the ordinary Diet session, which ends June 22, include legislation to allow the issuance of deficit-covering government bonds to fund a large portion of the fiscal 2011 initial budget.
Despite repeated calls from the media and opposition lawmakers to give a more specific time line of his resignation, the prime minister refused Friday to explain further.
During a session of an opposition-dominated Upper House Diet committee, LDP lawmaker Ichita Yamamoto attacked Kan for not giving a straight answer over his resignation, and threatened that his party is ready to submit a censure motion against the prime minister in the upper chamber. A censure motion urging a prime minister to step down is not legally binding.
“I believe that there will definitely come a time at the end of June to submit a censure motion against you,” Yamamoto said to Kan. “I am hoping from the bottom of my heart that you will resign for Japan and for the people of Japan.”