Kan Survives Vote of No-Confidence, but the Chaos Continues

International misgivings about Japan are on the rise following a spate of gaffes by Prime Minister Kan Naoto. Although the prime minister has now announced his intention to stand down, Japanese politics will continue in a state of chaos until he reveals a clear timetable for his resignation, says Masuzoe Yōichi.

International misgivings about Japan are on the rise following a spate of gaffes by Prime Minister Kan Naoto. Although the prime minister has now announced his intention to stand down, Japanese politics will continue in a state of chaos until he reveals a clear timetable for his resignation, says Masuzoe Yōichi.

The international community has been unstinting in the support and assistance it has given to Japan since the catastrophic events of March 11. But there is mounting skepticism around the world about the way Japan has handled the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.

Inadequate, Untimely, and Irresponsible PR

The biggest reason for this growing lack of international confidence in Japan is that the government has not done enough to disclose all the necessary information to the public. And even when the information is made available, it often comes too late. There was widespread consternation at one stage, for example, when reports suggested that work to cool the reactors with sea water had been suspended for 55 minutes in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. The government eventually announced that no such interruption had taken place, but by that stage the damage had been done. When things like this happen, it makes it difficult for people to believe what the government is telling them.

The government has also failed to do enough to monitor radiation levels and find out exactly how far radioactive materials dispersed after they leaked from the power plant. Japan has all the necessary equipment and research facilities for this—but as a result of government inertia the kind of thorough-going, comprehensive studies we need have still not been carried out. This has made a bad situation worse, exacerbating the plight of the region’s farmers who can no longer sell their produce, and increasing the health concerns of local residents.

A second reason why people overseas are so worried about Japan is the prime minister’s unfortunate habit of making rash, off-the-cuff remarks in public. This leads him to make reckless pronouncements before considering the feasibility of what he is suggesting. For example, in a speech to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the OECD on the eve of the G8 summit in late May, the prime minster suddenly announced plans to radically restructure Japan’s national energy policy, proposing to increase the proportion of power supplied by renewable energy to 20 percent by the early 2020s. But the government had discussed no such plans. Indeed, the Minister for Economy, Trade, and Industry—the person who would presumably take charge of implementing this policy if it ever materialized—apparently knew nothing of Kan’s scheme to install solar panels in 10 million households until he heard about it through the prime minister’s speech!

How many people still take these tossed-off pronouncements seriously? Not many. As prime minister, Kan represents the whole country and his statements form a binding promise to the international community. I am not convinced that the prime minister appreciates what a grave responsibility he bears.

Until the Next Prime Minister is Chosen

A motion of no-confidence in Kan and his cabinet was proposed to the National Diet on June 1. For a while there seemed to be a good chance that a rebellion within the Democratic Party of Japan would see the motion pass. But after Hatoyama Yukio, Kan’s predecessor as prime minister, agreed to call off the rebellion in exchange for a promise from Kan to step down in the near future, the tide turned in the prime minister’s favor and the motion was defeated easily when voting took place on June 2.

But still we have no clear indication of when Kan plans to resign. This uncertainty about the prime minister’s future will only lead to more doubt and confusion. Japanese politics looks likely to muddle along in a state of chaos for some time yet. (Written June 5, 2011)

In This Series
Rebuilding Japan
A Prime Minister on Life Support (June 28)
Kan Survives Vote of No-Confidence, but the Chaos Continues (June 5)
A Dangerous Approach to Crisis Management (May 11)
The Kan Administration Reveals Its Incompetence (April 26)
Doubts About Japan’s Crisis Management (April 12)
Facing Up to a National Crisis (March 29)

Masuzoe YōichiMasuzoe Yōichi

Graduated from the University of Tokyo, where he majored in political science. Has been a research fellow at the University of Paris and the University of Geneva and an associated professor at the University of Tokyo. A member of the House of Councillors since 2001. Minister of Health, Labor, and Welfare 2007–2009. Is now head of the New Renaissance Party.