--The Asahi Shimbun, June 4
EDITORIAL: Kan should exit gracefully, not cling to power
Within a day of indicating his intention to step down, Prime Minister Naoto Kan started maneuvering to stay in office.
Kan didn't refer to his resignation either in a news conference on the night of June 2 after an opposition-sponsored no-confidence motion was voted down, or during a June 3 Upper House session.
His equivocal attitude is causing a lot of confusion.
Is he acting out of a sense of responsibility, feeling that he should not abandon his duty to bring an end to the nuclear crisis and lay a solid foundation for reconstruction from the devastation caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake?
Or is he trying to avoid being treated as an irrelevant lame duck by the opposition parties?
Whatever the reason, no good will come of a political brawl between lawmakers of the ruling and opposition camps. They should calm down first.
Let us set the record straight.
During a meeting of ruling Democratic Party of Japan lawmakers before the Lower House vote on the no-confidence motion, Kan pledged to "pass on responsibility" to a younger generation when it becomes clear that efforts to deal with the aftermath of the disaster have made "a certain degree of progress."
Following his speech, former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama further explained Kan's remarks. Hatoyama said Kan had agreed to resign as soon as the proposed basic law for the post-disaster reconstruction is enacted and the formulation of a second supplementary budget to finance related measures is firmly on track.
Kan didn't try to correct Hatoyama as he listened.
It seemed clear to anybody present that Kan had effectively confirmed his intention to leave office.
That's why the anti-Kan group of DPJ members of the Lower House who had threatened to support the no-confidence motion decided to abort their revolt.
Kan, however, started acting as if he had made no promise to resign.
When asked what he had meant by "a certain degree of progress," Kan referred to cold shutdown of the wrecked reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant--a stable state with the coolant water at a temperature below 100 degrees.
That suggests that Kan is looking to stay in power well into next year, depending on the situation at the crippled nuclear power plant.
The lawmakers in both the ruling and opposition camps who tried to oust Kan in the middle of a national crisis certainly acted in an extremely irresponsible manner.
Still, Kan was unable to win public support and faced the possibility of a no-confidence motion passing against his Cabinet.
In a desperate situation, under the media glare, Kan tried to save his political skin by making the "certain degree of progress" remarks.
It appears, however, that Kan effectively deceived legislators in both camps.
The only thing we can say to the embattled prime minister is, "Mr. Kan, you shouldn't do this."
Kan's political maneuvering will only cause the opposition parties to harden their attitudes and step up attacks on the government in the Upper House, which is under their control.
It will also deepen the already serious rift within the DPJ.
The upshot will be the lack of progress on key policy issues on both the domestic and diplomatic fronts.
It defies common sense that a prime minister who has said he would step down staying in power without making clear when he will leave office.
Such behavior only deepens public cynicism about politics.
When should Kan hand over the reins, then?
The common sense view would be some time soon, within the year.
As a lame duck prime minister, Kan should act swiftly to pave the way for enactment of a new spending plan and bills for reconstruction efforts.
It would be more convincing if Kan at the same time launched the process of selecting his successor within the party.
To ensure that a new leader is selected in a less feverish atmosphere, the process should involve not just the DPJ Diet members, who are preoccupied with the power struggle, but all other card-carrying party members.