Japanese Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda yesterday postponed a reported plan to announce a bid to replace Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, saying he would focus on confronting global financial market turmoil.
Japanese media said Noda, who favors raising the sales tax to fund bulging social security costs, had intended to announce his candidacy for a party leadership race at a meeting of Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) allies yesterday.
The Sankei Shimbun also said he would quit his post in coming weeks to raise pressure on Kan to resign. Instead, Noda told reporters yesterday he would not declare his candidacy.
“Right now is a very important period and I will properly fulfil my duties,” he said.
Noda has been expected to run in the party election once the unpopular Kan resigns, but concerns about financial meltdown and worries about the impact of a strong yen on the world’s third-largest economy forced him to delay his move, a political source said.
“It would be politically difficult to announce his candidacy in this situation,” the source said, noting the original timing had been meant to precede publication of a policy statement in a monthly magazine due out today.
Kan, under fire for his handling of the nuclear crisis at a tsunami-crippled power plant and his voter ratings sagging at well below 20 percent, has said he will hand power over to the DPJ’s younger generation, but has not specified when, and rivals in his party appear to be growing frustrated.
Already Japan’s fifth prime minister in as many years, Kan has set three conditions for keeping his pledge to resign — and some wonder whether he will quit even once those are met.
One of those conditions, the enactment of an extra budget to help fund recovery from the massive March earthquake and tsunami, has already been met. But the outlook is cloudy for the other two — passage of a bill to allow the government to borrow more to fund this year’s US$1 trillion budget and approval of a law to promote renewable sources of energy such as solar power.
If Noda or other key Cabinet ministers were to resign, it would boost pressure on Kan to keep his promise even if the two bills are not enacted before parliament’s session ends on Aug. 31.
“The scenario is that Noda, [Minister of Trade, Economy and Industry Banri] Kaieda, and [Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Akihiro] Ohata all resign together,” Futatsuki said. “Then they bring forward the party leadership vote.”
Not everyone was convinced the script would play out, especially in light of the global financial turmoil.
“It is August and the silly season in Japanese politics, but it probably won’t happen,” said Jeffrey Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University’s Japan campus.
Noda, 54, has played a key role in mapping out Japan’s reconstruction after the devastating earthquake and tsunami in March, and in coordinating policy with its G7 partners to tackle the latest global financial crunch.
Some analysts have expressed hope that replacing Kan, whose policy flipflops and abrasive personality have irked both ruling and opposition lawmakers, would allow smoother cooperation with opposition parties in parliament, where the opposition controls the upper house and can block legislation.
Others were pessimistic about any breakthroughs as Japan struggles with debt, a fast-aging population, rebuilding from the disasters and crafting a new energy policy in the wake of the nuclear crisis.