JAPAN | Kan hints at national election to keep wolves at bay

Posted on June 30, 2011

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JAPAN | ASAHI SHIMBUN | 30 June 2011

In an apparent bid to fend off pressure from all sides for him to resign, Prime Minister Naoto Kan on June 28 hinted he might dissolve the Lower House and call a snap election.

At a contentious meeting of ruling Democratic Party of Japan lawmakers, Kan came under withering criticism for not telling anyone exactly when he would quit and for appointing an opposition Liberal Democratic Party Upper House member to a government post.

Speaking to the government’s review of its basic energy plan, Kan said, “The direction of energy policy will likely be the biggest issue of the next national election.”

However, with the government just beginning its energy review and nothing decided, it’s doubtful the topic would generate much discussion in the run-up to an election in the unlikely event Kan followed through with his veiled threat.

Kan also touched on one of the conditions he says will determine the timing of his resignation, saying, “Promoting renewable energy sources is an urgent issue, and we must pass legislation in the current Diet session.”

Kan is effectively holding the Diet ransom to three conditions. He’s dug in and won’t go until it passes a special measures bill on renewable energy sources, the second supplementary budget and a bill to allow for the issuance of deficit-covering government bonds.

Sounding very much like a lame duck, Kan said, “In the remaining time I have, I will make every effort to use all my energies on those three subjects and to present a direction that does not leave any serious problems for future administration of nuclear energy.”

After the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, Kan said the government would thoroughly review its basic energy plan. He intends to have an energy and environment committee under the Council on the Realization of the New Growth Strategy play a leading role in that review.

However, discussions within that committee only began June 22, and a basic policy for the review is not expected until the end of the year.

An advisory panel to the minister of economy, trade and industry will also review comprehensive natural resources and energy policy, but a draft proposal is not expected any time soon.

A reform of nuclear energy administration will also not be easy.

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, which is in charge of overseeing electric power companies, comes under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which has long promoted nuclear energy.

There is also a dispersal of oversight functions as the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan comes under the Cabinet Office.

DPJ lawmakers criticized Kan for his recent actions.

Referring to his hints at dissolving the Lower House, Lower House member Ben Hashimoto said, “The prime minister made surprising statements about the consumption tax rate and about appointing a LDP lawmaker as a parliamentary secretary. I hope you will not unexpectedly call a national election.”

Naoto Sakaguchi, another Lower House member, said, “The people feel it is unreasonable that you have not clarified when you will step down.”

Jun Azumi, the DPJ Diet Affairs Committee chairman, also touched upon the difficulties he faces because of the strong resistance being put up by the opposition parties.

“The circumstances now are such that it is very difficult to get anything done,” Azumi said. “The opposition parties have taken the attitude of not even wanting to see my face.”

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Posted in: JAPAN