Kan Faces No-Confidence Vote as Japan Opposition Mounts

Kan Faces First No-Confidence Vote
Naoto Kan, Japan's prime minister, delivers a speech during a luncheon for the 3rd Japan-China-Korea Business Summit in Tokyo, Japan, on Sunday, May 22, 2011. Photographer: Haruyoshi Yamaguchi/Bloomberg

Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan will face his first parliamentary no-confidence vote as early as next week, reflecting mounting discord over his handling of the worst nuclear crisis in 25 years.

Sadakazu Tanigaki, head of the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party, yesterday said he “definitely” will submit a no-confidence motion against the government. The LDP and the New Komeito party agreed to study submitting the measure as early as next week, Kyodo News reported, without citing anyone.

The move comes amid growing dissent within the ruling Democratic Party of Japan over Kan’s leadership after the March 11 record earthquake and tsunami disabled a nuclear power plant and left almost 24,000 people dead or missing. While a no-confidence vote will likely fail, it may attract enough DPJ dissidents to cripple Kan, political analyst Koichi Nakano said.

“The LDP and New Komeito are hoping to split the ruling party,” said Nakano, a political science professor at Sophia University in Tokyo. “There’s a great deal of personal dissatisfaction with Kan and his leadership style.”

Asked about the possibility of a no-confidence vote, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano today told reporters that while opposition parties “have a right to do so,” he hoped they would cooperate on disaster recovery measures.

Signs of dissent within the DPJ are growing, threatening Kan’s chances of becoming the first prime minister in five to stay in office for more than a year. He is facing a backlash from some ruling-party legislators over plans to raise taxes to pay for rebuilding.

Resignation Hope

Koichiro Watanabe, who heads a group of 16 DPJ lawmakers against the potential tax increases, said earlier this month members would likely support a no confidence motion.

“Almost all of us want him to resign,” Watanabe said in the May 13 interview at his office in Tokyo. Kan and members of his Cabinet aren’t thinking “at all” about resigning now, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said today in Tokyo.

DPJ tax-panel head Sakihito Ozawa said in a May 20 interview that Kan will find it “difficult” to convince his own party of the need for tax increases to fund the rebuilding when the economy is shrinking.

Indicted lawmaker and former DPJ chief Ichiro Ozawa told the Wall Street Journal in an interview published today that Kan should quit as soon as possible. Ichiro Ozawa, who has been suspended from the party for the duration of his trial on charges of violating campaign financing laws, retains the loyalty of some members for engineering the DPJ’s landslide victory in 2009.

80 Lawmakers

Ichiro Ozawa didn’t say in the interview whether he would back a no-confidence motion, which would fail without the support of about 80 ruling-party lawmakers in the DPJ-controlled lower house of parliament. Passage of the measure would force Kan either to step down or call a snap election.

Public support for higher taxes to pay for reconstruction has decreased in recent weeks, as the quake’s damage caused the world’s third-largest economy to contract. Public broadcaster NHK reported last week that 31 percent of those it surveyed oppose higher levies, compared with 26 percent who support them. In the immediate aftermath of the quake, polls showed a majority of Japanese supported raising taxes.

Japan Recession

Japan’s economy fell into recession in the first quarter, contracting at a sharper-than-expected 3.7 percent annualized pace, as the quake hurt production and damped consumer spending. The government estimated that damage from the quake and tsunami could reach 25 trillion yen ($306 billion).

Moody’s cut its outlook for Japan’s Aa2 sovereign rating to negative from stable in February on worries political gridlock will prevent the Japanese government from reducing its deficits. Japan’s public debt is about twice the size of its economy.

Kan’s approval rating was 26 percent in an Asahi newspaper poll published on May 16, up five percentage points from a month ago, while his unfavorable rating was 51 percent. Almost two-thirds of respondents disapproved of his response to the disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi atomic power plant, where reactor meltdowns sent radiation into the air and sea and prompted the evacuation of 50,000 households.

Last month, the DPJ lost seats in head-to-head contests with the LDP in local assembly, mayoral and gubernatorial elections. At the same time, dissatisfaction with Kan’s party hasn’t translated into support for the LDP.

The Asahi newspaper poll showed the voter support rate of both parties at 19 percent, with the DPJ gaining two percentage points from last month and the LDP unchanged. The LDP lost more assembly seats than it gained in April, mostly to local parties and independent candidates. The Asahi poll did not provide a margin of error.

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