What happened Thursday in the Diet — a vote on a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Naoto Kan in the Lower House — will further deepen people’s distrust of lawmakers at home and tarnish Japan’s image abroad. The motion did lead, however, to Mr. Kan’s vague pledge to resign in the near future, without specifying when. The noisy theater surrounding the motion must have strengthened the impression that Japan’s lawmakers are interested only in jockeying for position in a power game.
Lawmakers appeared to have forgotten the sober fact that more than 15,000 people died and some 8,300 others went missing in the March 11 quake and tsunami; that nearly 100,000 people are still staying in temporary shelters, away from their homes; and that people in Fukushima Prefecture live with the fear of exposure to radiation from the nuclear accidents at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Mr. Kan survived the motion by a wide margin — 293 votes were against it and 152 votes for it — but his political base has weakened. He must tackle in earnest the task of alleviating the sufferings of disaster and nuclear crisis victims as well as of carrying out reconstruction of the Tohoku coastal region.
The no-confidence motion was submitted by the Liberal Democratic Party, Komeito and Tachiagare Nippon (Sunrise Party of Japan), a minor opposition party. They tried to pull Mr. Kan from power by taking advantage of a political struggle within the Democratic Party of Japan between Mr. Kan and former DPJ chief Ichiro Ozawa.
The fact is that those three parties had no concrete plan for taking over power in case the motion was passed. In this sense, they were irresponsible. It would also be difficult for people to get the impression that they are making serious efforts to help the sufferers from the disasters and the nuclear crisis and to push the reconstruction. While in power, the LDP and Komeito pushed nuclear power.
But the person most responsible for the political confusion is Mr. Kan. While he has to strengthen his party vis-a-vis the opposition camp, he has placed priority on consolidating his own power, rather than on securing party unity.
He destroyed the party unity by taking a disciplinary step against Mr. Ozawa over his alleged involvement in irregularities in political fund record keeping. The lack of party unity caused by Mr. Kan’s move has had a lasting negative effect on the DPJ and the DPJ government led by him.
The LDP and the two other parties apparently tried to make use of this division within the DPJ for their advantage. Mr. Ozawa on his part tried to take advantage of the opposition’s move.
Mr. Kan’s performance after the March 11 disaster is far from satisfactory. Compared with the case of the 1995 Kobe earthquake, Mr. Kan has been slow in his efforts to stabilize the life of disaster victims and reconstruct the devastated areas. He has not yet succeeded in setting up a system that can effectively deal with the nuclear crisis at Fukushima No. 1.
Important information about the crisis has been often hidden. His and his aides’ communication with Tepco has been so poor that conflicting information has been released, deepening people’s worries and distrust.
Worse, he did not seem to be serious about solving problems faced by the devastated areas. He originally planned to submit the second supplementary budget for fiscal 2011, which will fund the reconstruction efforts, to the next Diet session to be convened in August or later — an incredibly slow action in view of the suffering of people in northeastern Japan.
As late as Wednesday, the day the no-confidence motion was submitted, he expressed his readiness to extend the current Diet session so that the Diet can discuss the extra budget.
Mr. Kan also said that if the motion was passed, he would dissolve the Lower House for snap elections, instead of resigning. When it is clear that elections cannot be held in the devastated areas, what sane leader would say such a thing?
This shows that he is only serious about clinging to power. In fact, local elections to be held in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures in and after June have been postponed to September.
On Thursday morning, the possibility appeared high that the no-confidence motion would be passed since Mr. Ozawa and former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama had expressed their support for the motion.
The support for the motion among many DPJ lawmakers waned only after Mr. Kan dropped a hint to DPJ lawmakers that he would resign when it becomes certain that efforts to solve the problems caused by the March 11 disaster and the nuclear crisis will be smoothly implemented. Even so, two voted for it and Mr. Ozawa and 14 others abstained.
Mr. Kan should not use his vague commitment to resignation as a means of prolonging his political life. He already hinted at staying in office for at least several more months. He must prove his sincerity at least by making strenuous efforts to secure quick passage of a basic bill for the reconstruction and a bill for issuing bonds that cover some 40 percent of the outlays of the initial 2011 budget.