Caginess seen as bid to stay on; voter antinuke mandate may be last jab

Kan keeps foes on edge over resignation timetable

by and

Staff Writers

Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s announcement Monday that he would step down after the second extra budget and two key bills are passed may, at a glance, appear as though he finally clarified when he is leaving.

But it still remains to be seen whether his remark means the end of what critics call his “smokescreen tactic” to keep every key issue vague. In reality, the move means one thing — he is trying to stay in power for as long as possible, the critics say.

Kan took a new tack Monday by recruiting lawmaker Kazuyuki Hamada of the Liberal Democratic Party, the largest opposition force, into his administration. Hamada is a member of the Upper House and Kan is desperate to win over as many people as possible from the opposition camp in the divided Diet.

The action, however, triggered harsh anger not only in the LDP but also within the ruling Democratic Party of Japan.

“By headhunting one lawmaker (from the LDP, Kan) has raised the hurdle for negotiations between the ruling and opposition parties,” said DPJ policy chief Koichiro Genba, whose job is to negotiate legislation with the opposition.

Kan may have tried to create uncertainty over the passage of the bills as an excuse to stay in power, the critics said.

“Wanting to enact (the bills) means Kan wants to prolong his leadership by any means,” said Yasuharu Ishizawa, a professor of politics and media at Gakushuin Women’s College. “It doesn’t look like he is going to step down.”

Kan has indicated his resignation will be tied to when the Diet passes three measures — the second extra budget for fiscal 2011, a bill to introduce a feed-in tariff system to promote renewable energy sources and legislation to issue deficit-covering bonds necessary to finance the initial fiscal 2011 budget.

“I want them enacted at all costs under my Cabinet,” he said.

Kan, who announced in early June he would resign but without specifying when, has isolated himself. Even his closest aides, including DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, have distanced themselves and are pushing him to step down as soon as possible.

Ishizawa claimed Kan is only thinking about himself, not Japan.

“Kan may have some policies he wants to implement, but all I see is his attachment to power,” Ishizawa said. “Considering Japan’s international image, Kan is damaging the country’s interests. . . . Kan should not have created such a gulf among his peers.”

Despite the flak from both the ruling and opposition parties, Kan seemed unwavering. During a news conference Monday evening, he expressed confidence in Diet deliberations, saying that was what the people wanted.

“If we both stand from the viewpoint of what is best for the people or what is most necessary for the disaster victims and not make it an issue between parties, I think we can move forward with various policies,” Kan said.

He ended up appointing LDP Upper House lawmaker Hamada as parliamentary secretary to the internal affairs ministry and as a member of the government’s reconstruction headquarters, which is expected to become an agency next year.

Kan also moved to strengthen his Cabinet by appointing Ryu Matsumoto to head the new reconstruction agency and promoted Goshi Hosono as a new minister to deal with the nuclear crisis.

“The appointments are a way for Kan to appeal to the public that he is serious about taking restoration and reconstruction measures as well as dealing with the nuclear plant accident,” said Norihiko Narita, a professor of political science at Surugadai University in Saitama Prefecture. Otherwise, “the public would criticize Kan for just trying to protect himself.”

Narita added that by creating a new ministerial post dealing with the nuclear accident, Kan is also aiming to show the public he is moving toward assuming an antinuclear stance, and may call an election for a mandate.