Prior to the series of disasters that befell Japan, Prime Minister Naoto Kan was under pressure to resign because of the disastrous popularity ratings that he and his government received.
During attempts to cope with the crisis, the political maneuvering was put on a back burner, but with the results of local elections in Japan as well as a House of Representatives by-election, the pressures for his resignation have resurfaced with a vengeance.
Kan's party, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), was trounced in the local elections and did not even put up a candidate in the by- election – odd behavior for a governing party. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the former perennial ruling party that was finally ousted by the DPJ, was the major victor. The elections also saw the appearance of a new party, Genzei Nippon (a tax cut Japan), in a national level election.
While many local candidates ran as independents, candidates who were explicitly identified with the DPJ lost. Having won nationally, the DPJ attempted to firm up its electoral base by repeating its achievements in local governments races. It achieved the opposite of its hopes.
The LDP was jubilant and believes it has started its road back to power. "It is an expression of the doubts held by many voters over whether the prime minister can truly implement measures to deal with the natural disasters," LDP chief Sadakazu Tanigaki told reporters. Kan for his part conceded that "We have to seriously accept the fact that many candidates ended up with severe results."
The latest polls displayed dissatisfaction with the government's handling of the crisis. 76 % percent of the respondents faulted the Prime Minister for lack of leadership this compares with 63.7% dissatisfaction in March. Rather than rally behind him, members of his own party have joined in the criticism.
Kan has claimed that it is his destiny to be Prime Minister at the time of the disaster. The Asahi Shimbun, that is sympathetic to the DPJ, urges Kan to channel his efforts "to bring the nuclear crisis on the control… Not toward saving his political life," and get good advice from all sources. The paper enjoins the DPJ to desist from a power struggle "the DPJ will have no future if it falls back into the evil habits of political infighting in this time of a national crisis."
At the moment, not all the DPJ members are likely to heed this advice. Kan's longtime rival within the party, Ichiro Ozawa, is busy sounding out LDP lawmakers on a no-confidence motion that will require 80 coalition members to break ranks. He has also set up a study group on overcoming the national tragedy, meaning that he has no confidence in the Prime Minister's ability to overcome it.
What may save the Prime Minister for the moment is that this is a tricky period. The country still lacks a direction for reconstruction and therefore pushing a no-confidence motion could backfire on the LDP if public opinion is still in crisis mode.