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Kan Is Going Going but not Gone

As the problems continue to pile up, the Japanese Prime Minister is still vague about his resignation plans.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 6/27/2011, 10:06 PM / Last Update: 6/28/2011, 12:22 AM

The popularity of Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan has plummeted to 26%. With such ratings the trap door under a Japanese Prime Minister usually opens up and we witness his departure and replacement. But these are not normal times in Japan.

Despite his unpopularity and the pervasive feeling in the Japanese bureaucracy that he is a lame duck, and despite the embarrassment felt by countries that must interact with Japan such as South Korea or the United States about scheduling summits, Mr. Kan insists on staying.

To survive a no-confidence motion and keep his own party on board, Kan promised to step down but left the timing deliberately vague. This has caused disgruntlement, among the opposition and also within his own party --the Democratic Party of Japan, (DPJ).

He has extended the legislative session by 70 days in order to pass the necessary legislation. Kan wants to leave on a note of accomplishment and therefore he has told a news conference that he would leave once a reconstruction bill to rebuild areas devastated by the natural disasters passed the Japanese Diet. 

He added  two other proposals.

Kan also wants the Legislature to pass a bond issue to cover the increased expenses and a bill on renewable energy. Some suspect a snare in the last proposal, because a renewable energy bill will necessarily benefit some industries and disadvantage others. Such a bill usually involves painstaking negotiations in a Japanese political culture that is not accustomed to crash legislative programs.

Some of the Prime Minister's opponents within the DPJ feel that they have been fooled. Their problem is how to eject the Prime Minister.

The unwritten law in Japanese politics is that you have one no-confidence motion in a parliamentary session but this has already been done. Kan survived the no-confidence motion by promising to leave.

Now Kan is performing a mini cabinet reshuffle, hardly what one would expect from a Prime Minister on his way out. "We can only wait for the Cabinet's approval ratings to plummet and the prime minister to run out of steam," said one senior member of the intra-party opposition.

Perhaps what the Japanese cannot do amongst themselves they can be prodded into by outside parties. Moody's Investor Service warns that Japan is facing a third lost decade of stagnant growth. Japan must grow more rapidly in order to cope with its mammoth debt burden and double its current anemic 1.2% growth rate. Moody's threatens to downgrade the Japanese credit rating if the government and parliament continued to delay action.