Friday, 3 June 2011

Japan: Political Power-Wrangling in the Face of Nuclear Crisis

On June 2, 2011, a no-confidence motion against the Cabinet of Prime Minister Naoto Kan failed in the Lower House. Though Kan needed only 232 votes, an overwhelming majority of 293 lawmakers supported him by voting against the motion compared with 152 who voted in favor.

The no-confidence motion submitted by the opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), New Komeito and the Sunrise Party of Japan, was aimed at toppling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) Kan's government. They banked on Kan's own political party's bloc headed by Ichiro Ozawa, the former head of Japan's ruling party who's been indicted for illegal political fund-raising, to succeed in their quest to splinter the DPJ as a way to gain political points. If the no-confidence motion in the Lower House had passed, then Kan Cabinet would have to either resign en masse or Kan would have to dissolve the Lower House for a snap election.

It appears just before the plenary session to vote on the no-confidence motion Kan defused the rebellion among the DPJ members with a promise to step down once the Tohoku crisis is under control. For all the media attention focused on Ozawa's power-play to topple Kan, Ozawa himself didn't even show up to vote on the no-confidence motion.

The LDP, the largest opposition to DPJ, attacked Kan for handling the nuclear crisis, even though LDP was responsible for the lax oversight of the nuclear-power industry during its 50 years in power. Not surprisingly, Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) has been one of the big donors to the LDP. The timing of the no-confidence vote could be linked to Kan's recent calls to deregulate the energy industry, scale down the importance of nuclear power, and consider renewable energy sources for the future.

In reality, everyone loses. Despite Kan's obvious defeat of the opposition parties and Ozawa, the political diversion of no-confidence motion has set the stage for his lame-duck rule in the midst of a national emergency. Diet deliberations on important bills to handle the national crisis may be delayed because greater attention is focused on picking Kan's successor.

Most Japanese, especially disaster victims who have lost homes, jobs and loved ones, and are facing ongoing threats of radioactive contamination, have been very critical of the politicians - expressing anger and confusion over the timing of the no-confidence motion.

In the Tohoku region, many voting sites and ballot counting locations were completely destroyed or washed away in the tsunami. How could they have elections if the Lower House was dissolved?

Furthermore, no unified view within the LDP of what form the new government should be if they succeeded in pushing out Kan's administration.

When will the Japanese politicians stop thinking of themselves and start thinking of the people they represent for a change?

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