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Prime Minister faces tough decisions

Date Posted: 2011-02-25

After staking a strong position against stepping down less than two months ago, Naoto Kan, Japan's fifth prime minister since 2006, is finding himself having to decide whether to call elections within the next few months.

Kan, who stepped into the prime minister's role last year after Yukio Hatoyama resigned under pressure linked to the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station relocation issue, had said in January "I won't quit, even if I feel down. I'll go all the way as I could say I'm a bit of a political anomaly," referring to his non-aristocratic family background. That confidence is eroded somewhat as his Democratic Party of Japan chose to suspend Ichiro Ozawa's party membership while he awaits trial, leaving Kan with difficult decisions.

Already under intense pressure over resolving the Futenma issue, for which Okinawans have been telling him the only solution is a relocation off Okinawa, Kan is having to wrestle with conflict within his political base. Some DPJ members wanted Ozawa, a longtime party leader and power player, to be left alone. Others chose the censure route, leaving Kan to declare he might dissolve the Lower House of the Diet and call for new elections.

Ozawa followers and the opposition have threatened Kan they'll not vote to support the fiscal 2011 budget, and Ozawa himself told aides Kan could dissolve the House. Some of his allies have demanded Kan step down, but the threat of calling new elections should quiet the DPJ rookies, who have little political base power to flex if new elections were called.

Many observers predict, however, that Kan is only making noise. They note the DPJ is already encountering low public support, as is Kan's cabinet, and calling for an election would not benefit Kan. "If he calls an election, the DPJ may well be defeated, says Gakushuin University professor emeritus of political science Hidekazu Kawai. Kawai says Kan faces a rough time until summer, but should focus on non-budgetary goals.

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