Naoto Kan remains Japan's prime minister for the moment, but the circumstances of his continued tenure are distinctly déjà vu. When the Japanese voters dumped the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) after nearly five decades of nearly uninterrupted rule, the expectation was that it would usher in a new era in Japanese politics.
The victorious Democratic Party of Japan was less beholden to entrenched interests as the trade unions in Japan cannot compare with their counterparts in Europe. The party was thought to be less bedeviled by factional politics. The same hopes of a new Japanese politics also accompanied the change in the election laws that appeared to augur an effective two party system.
What this week's events have demonstrated is that the more things change, the more things remain the same.
Kan managed to beat off a no confidence motion because he had convinced his opponents within the DPJ 's that they would be soon seeing the end of him as prime minister, saying "after the earthquake response is settled to some degree, I would like to pass the responsibility onto a younger generation,".
The opponents were mollified because this compromise gave them what they wanted, but avoided a rift that could destroy the DPJ and hand back power to the Liberal Democratic Party. Yukio Hatoyama, who preceded Kan as Prime Minister and then became a major opponent, asked the party faction to behave in "a unified manner" and Kan easily survived the no confidence motion last week.
The compromise began to unravel as soon as it became clear that there was no firm date for Kan's resignation. His opponents expected him to depart by August, but he has an invitation to Washington from Barack Obama in September.
Now the Prime Minister is saying that he is waiting the shutdown of the crippled nuclear reactor. To judge by the Tokyo utility that owns the reactor, this means next January.
DPJ Secretary-General Katsuya Okada, who was a protagonist in forging the compromise, claimed that Kan did not want to proclaim himself a lame duck by providing a firm date. Hatoyama was furious, feeling that a deal had been made and broken, and he sharply criticized Kan, referring to him as a "swindler."
To salvage a situation where the DPJ controls the lower house and the LDP the upper house, there is increasing talk of a grand coalition where the DPJ and LDP share power for a limited time and tackle the budgetary crisis.
Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren) Chairman Hiromasa Yonekura has said that to tackle disaster reconstruction, there is no other option than a grand coalition between the ruling and opposition parties.