Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan bows after a news conference in Tokyo.… (Franck Robichon, EPA )
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 Japan's ruling Democratic Party 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 residents 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 forge consensus in a divided parliament. Kan needs to pass an extra budget to pay for the mammoth rebuilding that lies ahead after the disaster. He is also expected to make little headway toward the reform on taxes and social security that many say is necessary to rein in the country's runaway public debt.
Kan did not offer a firm date for tendering his resignation. But his predecessor, Yukio Hatoyama, also of the Democratic Party, told lawmakers earlier in the day that he supported Kan's plan to step down after negotiating the budget needed to fund the rebuilding effort, a job that could probably be accomplished by late summer.
Hatoyama earlier had 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 believe that either Kan or the central government has responded well to the crisis.
Many observers believe that Japanese voters are willing to give Kan more time because though they might prefer 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 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 first anniversary in office is Wednesday.