A Prime Minister on Life Support

An agreement has been reached to extend the current Diet session and Prime Minister Kan Naoto has reshuffled his cabinet. But as long as he refuses to announce a date for his resignation, the chaos that is paralyzing Japanese politics will only get worse, argues Masuzoe Yōichi.

An agreement has been reached to extend the current Diet session and Prime Minister Kan Naoto has reshuffled his cabinet. But as long as he refuses to announce a date for his resignation, the chaos that is paralyzing Japanese politics will only get worse, argues Masuzoe Yōichi.

The government and opposition parties have agreed a 70-day extension to the current session of the Diet, originally due to end on June 22. A power struggle has been underway within the ruling Democratic Party of Japan for some time, but the prime minister’s Machiavellian maneuvers have wrong-footed his opponents and the move to topple Kan has been foiled—for now.

Kan survived a vote of no confidence on June 2 thanks to the support of former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio. But Kan was able to secure his predecessor’s support only by promising to step down soon. Only by these drastic means did he succeed in quelling the rebellion within his own party.

But the prime minister is still refusing to name a date for his resignation. He merely repeats that he will step down once a system for dealing with the crisis has been put in place. Apparently he told Hatoyama that he would step down once a basic reconstruction law was passed and the ground was clear for a secondary supplementary budget. But Kan has refused to acknowledge the details of the arrangement since surviving the no-confidence vote. Hatoyama has accused him of being a conman.

The Dysfunctional DPJ

Since June 2, the question of when Kan will go has dominated Japanese politics. Now that a basic reconstruction law has duly been passed, Kan says he wants to stick around to oversee several other pieces of legislation—on government bonds, a second supplementary budget, and renewable energy. He has even started to say outright that he doesn’t want to resign.

Of course, getting all this legislation passed means extending the current session of the Diet. Up until the vote of no confidence, Kan was happy for the Diet to close on schedule. But that was back when avoiding attacks from the opposition was his main priority.

Since surviving the vote, the prime minister has performed a U-turn and now insists that a lengthy extension is vital to Japan’s interests. Despite all his talk of urgent legislation, the truth is that Kan wants to keep the Diet in session in order to hold onto power.

The DPJ’s initial proposal to the opposition parties was for an extension of four months. After opposition protests, the DPJ reached an agreement with the Liberal Democratic Party and the New Kōmeitō Party to extend the session by 50 days. But this wasn’t enough for Kan, and eventually an agreement was reached on a 70-day extension.

The prime minister and the rest of the Democrats’ leadership are clearly no longer reading from the same page. It is an unheard-of situation. The DPJ is no longer a functioning political party. The root of the problem is simple: Everything that Kan does is motivated by a simple greed for power.

On June 27, Kan announced a minor cabinet reshuffle, placing Disaster Management Minister Matsumoto Ryū [1] in charge of reconstruction and appointing LDP House of Councillors member Hamada Kazuyuki as a parliamentary secretary. He also took this opportunity to announce that he would remain in office until the three pieces of “crucial legislation” named above have been passed. This reshuffle and the press conference that followed have only served to heighten discontent within both the DPJ and the opposition parties. Kan will find it increasingly hard to control the Diet from now on. He is living on borrowed time. (Written on June 28, 2011.)


[1] After making a series of ill-considered remarks to the governor of Miyagi Prefecture, one of the areas hardest hit by the disaster, Matsumoto Ryū resigned as Reconstruction Minister on July 5, 2011. He was replaced by Hirano Tatsuo.—Ed.

In This Series
Rebuilding Japan
A Prime Minister on Life Support (June 28)
Kan Survives Vote of No-Confidence, but the Chaos Continues (June 5)
A Dangerous Approach to Crisis Management (May 11)
The Kan Administration Reveals Its Incompetence (April 26)
Doubts About Japan’s Crisis Management (April 12)
Facing Up to a National Crisis (March 29)

Masuzoe YōichiMasuzoe Yōichi

Graduated from the University of Tokyo, where he majored in political science. Has been a research fellow at the University of Paris and the University of Geneva and an associated professor at the University of Tokyo. A member of the House of Councillors since 2001. Minister of Health, Labor, and Welfare 2007–2009. Is now head of the New Renaissance Party.