The head of Japan’s largest opposition party said Prime Minister Naoto Kan should quit over his handling of last month’s earthquake and the ongoing nuclear crisis, signaling less cooperation on recovery efforts.
“The time has come for the prime minister to decide whether to stay or step down,” Sadakazu Tanigaki, head of the Liberal Democratic Party, said at a press conference yesterday, according to a transcript of his remarks. “To continue under this structure would be unfortunate for the Japanese people.”
The comments came four days after Kan’s Democratic Party of Japan suffered a setback in local elections, the first since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami devastated the northeast and crippled a nuclear power plant. Opinion polls show voters favor a DPJ-LDP coalition to cope with what Kan has called Japan’s worst crisis since World War II.
Tanigaki yesterday said that while he stood by his March 13 pledge “to cooperate with all our might” in recovery efforts, “we have no choice but to criticize when things go in the wrong direction.” He said his party disagrees with the DPJ on how to fund an initial stimulus plan that Cabinet members say could be as large as 4 trillion yen ($48 billion).
The DPJ lost two key governor races in the April 10 elections, and more than 60 percent of voters disapprove of Kan’s handling of the crisis at the Dai-Ichi nuclear plant in Fukushima, according to a Yomiuri newspaper poll published on April 4. The survey said 64 percent favor a DPJ-LDP government.
“The possibility of a coalition was unlikely to begin with and is even more remote now,” said Jun Okumura, a former trade ministry official and a senior adviser with the Eurasia Group in Tokyo. “Tanigaki is pushing him, but Kan will try to ride it out.”
Kan’s approval rating rose seven percentage points to 31 percent from 24 percent the month before, the Yomiuri said. The newspaper polled 1,036 people and provided no margin of error.
Kan last month agreed to LDP demands to drop plans to increase cash handouts to families with children in an effort to win their support for the rebuilding package. Lawmakers disagree on how to finance the spending, an issue in a country with the world’s largest public debt, and opposition legislators have called on the DPJ to increase revenue by ending discounts on highway tolls.
Administration officials have said they want to avoid selling new bonds to fund the package.
Before the catastrophe struck, Kan was battling with the LDP, which refused to pass legislation authorizing sales of deficit covering bonds. His approval ratings plunged and calls for him to resign rose amid party campaign finance scandals.