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Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan survives no-confidence vote

Naoto Kan, widely unpopular for his handling of the nation's response to the March earthquake and nuclear disaster, cuts a deal that blunts opposition and gives him more time.

June 02, 2011|By John M. Glionna | Los Angeles Times
  • Prime Minister Naoto Kan, right, and members of his Cabinet bow after a no-confidence motion was voted down in the Diet.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan, right, and members of his Cabinet bow after a no-confidence… (Everett Kennedy Brown /…)

Reporting from Seoul — Vowing to stay in office only a few more months to guide the response to the nation's ongoing nuclear crisis, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Thursday survived a parliamentary no-confidence vote aimed at driving him from power.

Kan, who assumed his job about a year ago, cut a backroom political deal with members of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan only hours before the parliamentary vote was to take place.

"I want the younger generation to take over my duties after I fulfill the role I should play in handling the disaster," a somber Kan told legislators.

He said he needed the time to help rebuild the nation after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that struck northeastern Japan, leaving 25,000 people dead or missing and causing a major meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The final tally of the no-confidence vote, sponsored by the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, was 293 against ousting Kan and 152 supporting the move.

Still, Kan's critics say the lame-duck prime minister will be unable to inspire any consensus in a divided parliament. Kan needs to pass an extra budget to pay for the mammoth rebuilding effort that lies ahead. He is also expected to make little headway in forging reform on taxes and social security, which many say is necessary to rein in the country's runaway public debt.

Kan did not offer a firm date on when he would tender his resignation. But his predecessor, Yukio Hatoyama, told lawmakers earlier in the day that he supported Kan's plan to step down after negotiating the rebuilding budget  -- a job that probably could be accomplished by late summer.

Hatoyama had earlier backed the no-confidence motion. His about-face appeared to save the day for Kan, whose popularity has plummeted and who has been accused of botching the response to the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

A new survey by the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project, which polled 700 households in mid-April, found that only about 20% of Japanese residents believed that Kan or the central government had responded well to the crisis.

Many believe that Japanese voters are willing to give Kan more time because although they might opt for new leadership, they don't want it to come in the middle of the rebuilding effort.

Such no-confidence votes are common in Japan, which has seen six different prime ministers in the last five years alone. Had the motion passed, Kan would have been required to leave office within 10 days. Kan's one-year anniversary since taking office is June 8.

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