After being humiliated by Prime Minister Naoto Kan, economy minister Banri Kaieda hatched a plan to promote his policies on energy and lead him to the top of the nation’s political hierarchy.
But a scandal and battles in the Diet have ripped apart his strategy. Instead of gearing up for a run as ruling party president, Kaieda has been reduced to tears at one point and become the object of further ridicule.
In early July, Kaieda decided to resign after Kan ordered stress tests on all nuclear reactors in the country to confirm their safety. Kaieda, who had already pushed forward the restart of certain reactors, had not been informed of Kan’s plan.
The economy minister planned to step down in early August, when he expected the Diet to pass a bill on creating an organization that supports compensation payments to nuclear crisis victims and another on promoting renewable energy sources.
By leaving the Cabinet in early August, Kaieda intended to differentiate himself from the unpopular Kan, who also said he would resign but has shown no intention of doing so.
Kaieda was looking ahead to the Democratic Party of Japan’s presidential election, whose winner is certain to become prime minister, given the party’s majority in the Lower House.
However, Kaieda does not have his own party faction. He is currently a member of the faction headed by former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.
Kaieda aims to win over anti-Kan members and those who are trying to distance themselves from the prime minister.
The Diet is expected to pass the bill on the organization for compensation payments on Aug. 3.
But the special measures bill on renewable energy, which is being deliberated for possible revisions between the ruling and opposition parties, is unlikely to pass until mid-August, when the LDP decides on its stance.
A bigger blow to Kaieda’s plan came on July 29, when reports emerged that the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) tried to manipulate public opinion at symposiums on nuclear power.
NISA is under the supervision of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.
Kaieda instructed officials to set up a third-party committee to investigate the allegations against NISA.
He told acquaintances, “I want to decide on the members of the committee myself.”
He also suggested he would soon resign, saying, “Various things will be known in early August … . If I can resign, I want to resign as early as possible.”
However, if Kaieda resigns before the scandal issue is resolved, he would be criticized as irresponsible, not a trait the public wants in a leader.
The economy minister also did not help his cause in the Lower House Committee on Economy, Trade and Industry on July 29.
A lawmaker of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party pressed Kaieda on when he would step down.
“The longer you stay as (economy) minister, the more points you will lose as a politician,” the LDP member said.
Kaieda, choking back sobs, replied: “Please wait for a while. I will make the decision by myself.”
When he returned to his seat, he began to cry.
The incident stunned DPJ supporters.
“Why did he cry? Several people called my local office and said, ‘We cannot leave our country to a person like that,'” said a senior official of the Hatoyama faction.
Lawmakers of both the ruling and opposition parties are paying close attention to Kaieda’s plans because his resignation could influence the timing of when Kan steps down.
The resignation of Kaieda, who is in charge of energy policies, would certainly damage Kan’s administration.
Despite their disputes, Kan, in a meeting of the Upper House Budget Committee on July 21, said: “Kaieda is making efforts on various issues. I am not thinking at all to dismiss him.”
Kaieda’s resignation would delay the passage of the renewable-energy bill–one of three conditions cited by Kan for his resignation.
A DPJ executive who wants Kan to step down soon said, “Kaieda’s immediate resignation would postpone the prime minister’s resignation.”
At least one high-ranking government official does not expect Kaeida to resign soon.
“Since the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake, Kaieda’s sense of responsibility has become stronger,” the official said. “He will never abandon his post as minister halfway.”
But others say Kaieda’s exit from the Cabinet is inevitable.
“All of the decisions Kaieda makes as minister are overturned by Kan. I can understand well about Kaieda’s feelings,” a person close to Kan said.
Former DPJ President Ichiro Ozawa, who is expected to have a heavy influence on the party’s presidential election, told an aide, “If Kaieda resigns as minister, he will be able to become prime minister.”
The Ozawa group expects Kan to cling to power even if the three conditions for his resignation are met. Group members say they hope Kaieda’s early resignation will bring the Kan administration to a standstill.
The LDP wants Kaieda’s resignation to prompt other Cabinet members and DPJ executives to step down, creating such confusion in the DPJ-led government that Kan would have to dissolve the Lower House for a snap election.
The main opposition party also hopes that a delay in Kaieda’s resignation would worsen the public’s opinion of the DPJ.
(This article was written by Shinobu Konno and Norihito Sato.)
Economy minister responds in the Lower House Committee on Economy, Trade and Industry on July 29. (From Lower House website)
Kaieda raises his hand to answer in the Upper House Budget Committee on July 21. The kanji character “nin,” meaning endurance, is written on his palm. (The Asahi Shimbun)