Japan PM sets out terms for departure

Naoto Kan, Japan’s embattled prime minister, has made clear he does not plan to step down before winning Diet approval for a special disaster budget, a law promoting renewable energy and a deficit financing bill.

Mr Kan set the first clear conditions for his departure as he unveiled a mini-cabinet reshuffle aimed at strengthening efforts to cope with the huge tsunami that hit north east Japan on March 11 and the resulting crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

The prime minister earlier this month survived a revolt from within his ruling Democratic party by promising to pass responsibility to a “younger generation” when a “certain prospect” of success in dealing with the disaster and nuclear crisis.

But after winning a Diet no-confidence vote, Mr Kan infuriated DPJ rivals and opposition parties by waving aside their demands for a definition of what a “certain prospect” meant and by hinting he hoped to stay in power for some time.

At a press conference following his appointment on Monday of new ministers to lead disaster reconstruction and handling of the nuclear crisis, Mr Kan stopped short of setting a timetable for what could be the departure of the sixth Japanese prime minister in just five years.

He made clear he was determined to win enactment of a second supplementary budget for spending on the tsunami-devastated north-east coast and for a bill that will allow the government to issue bonds essential to finance the budget for the fiscal year to March 2012.

Passage of a draft law that will ensure utilities are paid a premium tariff for generating electricity from renewable sources was also essential, Mr Kan said.

“I think these [three items of legislation] would constitute a prospect [of progress],” Mr Kan said.

However, Mr Kan’s guarded clarification of his intentions is unlikely to lead to any easing of opposition pressure for his resignation or appease colleagues within the DPJ who believe cross-party co-operation will be impossible while he stays in office.

The prime minister’s political capital has been eroded by low public approval rates, with the Nikkei Shimbun, Japan’s biggest business daily, publishing an opinion poll on Monday that found support for his government down 2 per cent from May to 26 per cent. About 42 per cent of respondents thought Mr Kan should be replaced as soon as possible, the newspaper said.,

Mr Kan angered the opposition Liberal Democratic party on Monday by appointing LDP legislator Kazuyuki Hamada as a parliamentary secretary for internal affairs and communications. Mr Hamada said he would leave the LDP to take up the job.

Nobuhiko Suto, a DPJ Diet lower house member said the plucking of Mr Hamada from the opposition ranks looked like a calculated affront akin to “entering a Japanese house without taking off your shoes”.

But, speaking before Mr Kan’s press conference, Mr Suto said that if the opposition responded by refusing to co-operate with the DPJ on budget-related legislation, the prime minister might be able to seize the opportunity to capitalise on resulting public anger and call a new general election later this summer.

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