Unpopular Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said yesterday the time was not right to call a snap election for parliament’s lower house, a move that may sow political confusion in a country struggling with a nuclear crisis and a stagnant economy.
Kan, whose support rate has sunk to 17.1 percent, told a parliamentary committee that the next lower house election should be held in the summer of 2013, when an election for the upper chamber is also scheduled.
“To speak of a snap election is against public sentiment,” Kan said, adding that rebuilding from the triple calamaties of a massive earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in March was the top priority.
Kan, under fire for his handling of the disasters, survived a no--confidence vote last month by promising to step down, but he has been vague about the timing.
Earlier this month, he listed the passage of a deficit-funding bill, an emergency budget approved on Monday and a law promoting renewable energy as conditions for his resignation.
Ruling Democratic Party -executives are hoping to win opposition help to pass the deficit and energy bills by the middle of next month, but doubts remain about whether Kan would really quit even then and speculation persists that he might call a snap election as a referendum on his vision of a nuclear power-free Japan.
“I think Kan would like to stay as prime minister beyond this parliament session [which ends on Aug. 31], but the chances are approaching zero and if he doesn’t leave willingly, I think some key Cabinet members will resign and he’ll be forced to go,” Columbia University professor Gerry Curtis said.
Curtis also said an early election was unlikely, given strong resistance to the move inside the Democratic Party, which has a huge majority in the lower house now, but would likely lose seats heavily if a vote were held soon.
Atomic energy supplied about 30 percent of Japan’s electricity before the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear crisis, but only 16 of the country’s 54 reactors are now operating because of public safety concerns and other problems.
Despite fears of power shortages and rising electricity costs, more than 70 percent of voters in a survey by Kyodo news agency backed Kan’s nuclear-free vision.
Successive Japanese governments have faced the problem of a divided parliament, where opposition parties control the upper house and can block bills, foiling policy implementation. However, an early lower house election would not automatically resolve the problem, since no single party has an upper house majority.
An inconclusive outcome might also spark complex political maneuvering, with no guarantee policy-making would improve as a result.
The Sankei newspaper reported yesterday that Kan was considering a visit to North Korea in hopes of a breakthrough on the sensitive -issue of Japanese citizens kidnapped by Pyongyang decades ago as a way to raise his voter ratings as his charismatic predecessor, former Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, did in 2002.
However, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano denied the report, which comes as Pyongyang, Seoul and Washington seek to resume stalled multilateral talks on North Korea’s nuclear arms programs.
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