Prime Minister Naoto Kan officially announced Friday he will resign after 15 turbulent months in office during which the nation experienced its greatest postwar disaster and one of the world’s worst nuclear crises.
Kan’s resignation both as prime minister and as president of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan came the same day the Diet passed two key bills he had set as a precondition for his exit.
The DPJ plans to hold an election Monday to pick a new president, who would be subsequently installed as prime minister possibly as early as Tuesday.
“As of today, I would like to step down as DPJ president . . . and once a new leader is chosen, I will immediately resign as prime minister,” Kan told a party meeting Friday afternoon. “There were difficult moments and some harsh criticism, but I am truly grateful for everyone’s support.”
Earlier Friday, the Diet passed a bill to issue deficit-covering bonds to finance a large portion of the initial fiscal 2011 budget and another to promote the use of renewable energy — the two pieces of legislation Kan was adamant had to be passed.
Kan, the fifth prime minister since 2006, had a difficult ride during his 15 months in office. He was besieged by the opposition camp, which he tried to include in his administration after the March 11 calamity, to no avail, as well as by elements within the DPJ, in large part because he tried to distance his administration from indicted DPJ kingpin Ichiro Ozawa.
Kan became prime minister in June 2010 after his predecessor, Yukio Hatoyama, resigned after failing to fulfill his pledge to relocate a U.S. base outside Okinawa and amid revelations that he received illicit political donations from his tycoon heiress mother. Ozawa left as DPJ secretary general at the same time amid his own funds scandal.
Kan initially enjoyed high public support rates. But his popularity fell after he showed willingness to raise the consumption tax from 5 to 10 percent during the campaign for the Upper House election in July last year, and the DPJ-led bloc subsequently lost its majority in the chamber.
Amid the divided Diet, Kan and the DPJ struggled to enact state-sponsored legislation, including the special bond-issuance bill that took more than six months to clear the Lower House.
Despite the setbacks, Kan pursued new goals, including joining talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership regional free-trade pact and, after the March 11 disasters sparked the Fukushima nuclear crisis, cutting Japan’s dependence on atomic power.
But many of Kan’s proposals did not win out, and pundits criticized his goal-setting as “just talking off the top of his head.”
Kan, however, expressed satisfaction Friday when reflecting on his time at the helm, which included the biggest Self-Defense Forces mobilization in history, a massive U.S. military response and a global outpouring of solidarity and relief aid in response to the Tohoku catastrophe.
“I feel I did what I needed to do under such demanding conditions,” Kan said Friday.
“It may be because I am an optimist, but I think I did all I could, given the circumstances.”