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article image‘Difficult conditions’ force Japan PM Kan to resign

By Lynn Herrmann     Aug 26, 2011 in Politics
Tokyo - Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan has announced he will resign early next week, done in by sliding approval ratings based on his inability to effectively lead the country from the aftermath of a deadly earthquake, tsunami and triple nuclear meltdown.
Having spent just 15 months in office, Kan’s announcement comes as no surprise, as he had previously stated he would step down after two pieces of legislation were passed.
In a nationally televised meeting of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) on Thursday, Kan said: “I feel I've done everything I could under these difficult conditions,” Bloomberg reports.
Already under pressure over campaign finance issues before the 9.0 earthquake struck northeast Japan in March, Kan’s problems were compounded after the earthquake created a deadly tsunami. Combined, the two natural disasters killed almost 16,000 people. Within hours of the tsunami, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility began a nuclear meltdown, eventually turning into an epic nightmare, as three of the nuclear plant’s six reactors suffered a meltdown.
Kan’s replacement will be selected by the ruling party August 29 from a field of opponents including former Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara, finance chief Yoshihiko Noda, Agriculture Minister Michihiko Kano, Trade Minister Banri Kaieda, and three more vying for the top office.
After assuming the Prime Minister role in June 2010, Kan’s approval ratings stood strong, above 60 percent. However, those numbers quickly began to erode amidst accusations of failed leadership.
“Mr. Kan is the outsider-turned-prime minister, who should have provided leadership,” said Takayoshi Igarashi, professor of urban policy and friend of Kan, the New York Times reports. “The move to escape from nuclear power should have been his great chance to shine.”
Criticism of Kan reached an elevated level after the nuclear disaster began unfolding, with many suggesting the Japanese government and the nuclear plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), were not being forthcoming in accurately assessing the disaster’s magnitude.
Indeed, as TECPCO records later showed, TEPCO knew the plant had gone into meltdown just hours after the tsunami struck, yet did not reveal the information for almost two months. With the crippled facility emitting dangerous levels of radiation into the immediate vicinity, 60,000 people were forced to evacuate the area.
Earlier this week, a Japanese government source said a three-kilometer area around the Daiichi plant will be a no-go zone, likely for “several decades,” due to high levels of radiation, a revelation showing the true nature of the disaster.
Kan enjoyed a momentary break from the backlash he was receiving when, in May, he ordered closing of the Hamaoka nuclear plant, an aging facility situated on a known fault-line, but he was unable to capitalize on the effort because of his inability to communicate a concrete game plan going forward.
“Had Kan been a more a more skilled politician, he might have capitalized on this, and his plans for a fundamental shift in energy policy could have paved a path back to popularity,” said Richard Samuels, a political science professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and follower of Japanese affairs, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
Igarashi, Kan’s adviser and friend, added: “Prime Minister Kan never seemed to grasp the importance of communication. I told him and told him, but he had this belief that a man should be judged by actions, not words.”
Japan’s next leader will be faced with the ongoing nuclear crisis as well as the country’s slumping economy and the world’s largest debt. At issue will be an increase in taxes to deal with the economic woes.
Hiromichi Shirakawa, chief economist at Credit Suisse in Tokyo, said: “No matter who becomes the next leader, he probably wouldn't have the guts to raise taxes to fund reconstruction because they're more worried about losing popularity than about Japan's fiscal situation,” the Times reports.
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