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Japan voters want PM to go as no-confidence vote looms

TOKYO (Reuters) - Seventy percent of Japanese voters want to get rid of Prime Minister Naoto Kan, a survey showed Monday, marking more bad news for the unpopular government chief likely to face a no-confidence vote as early as this week.

Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan attends a news conference at the end of the G8 summit in Deauville, northern France, May 27, 2011. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

Kan is under fire for his handling of the humanitarian aid to victims of an earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan’s northeast on March 11 and the world’s worst nuclear crisis in 25 years triggered by the disaster.

Japan’s biggest opposition Liberal Democratic Party said last week it would submit a no-confidence motion to parliament to force Kan to resign or call a snap election.

The motion could be submitted as early as this week, a senior LDP lawmaker said Sunday and all opposition parties, except for tiny Social Democratic Party, have said they will back it.

Political analysts say, however, Kan stands a good chance of surviving the vote as it remains doubtful whether the LDP could win over enough disaffected members of Kan’s own Democratic Party for the motion to pass. More than 70 out of more than 300 Democrats would have to defect to secure passage.

“I doubt it will pass,” said Sophia University professor Koichi Nakano. “It is not meant to be a final blow against Kan, but an attempt to drive a wedge in the DPJ deeper and hope that will lead to something.”

The survey by Nikkei business daily suggested the public would not be too disappointed if Kan survived the challenge.

While nearly three quarters of those polled said the government had done a poor job of tackling the crisis at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, nearly half thought this was not the right time for a change at the top and Kan should remain through the initial stage of dealing with the crisis.

That could mean that Kan staying into next year, given doubts over whether Tokyo Electric Power, the plant’s operator, can stabilize the facility by January as planned. Kyodo news agency quoted a senior official at the utility as saying there could be a major delay in work.


Analysts say, however, that even if Kan survives, he will have trouble implementing tax and social security reforms needed to cope with the rising costs of a fast-aging society given a divided parliament and a rift within his own party, swept to power for the first time in 2009.

Government officials have said they will continue working on a plan to bring public finances back under control even as Tokyo is forced to juggle the biggest reconstruction effort since World War Two with managing the nuclear crisis.

The Yomiuri newspaper reported Monday that a centerpiece of the fiscal plan would likely be a proposal to double Japan’s 5 percent sales tax, among the lowest in major economies, in gradual stages by 2015.

Fitch ratings agency, which Friday cut Japan’s debt outlook to negative from stable, said Tokyo could regain its stable view if it presented an ambitious and coherent plan to tackle the ballooning public debt, already twice the size of the $5 trillion economy.

Analysts, however, said the plan, opposed by several lawmakers concerned about voter backlash, may not amount to much, given the government’s uncertain future.

“With the Kan cabinet rather unlikely to survive till the end of this year, let alone till 2015, his cabinet’s intention on what the Japanese government should do in 2015 does not matter much,” Takuji Okubo, chief Japan economist at Societe Generale Corporate & Investment Banking, said in a note.

Writing by Tomasz Janowski; Editing by Ron Popeski