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Prime Minister’s woes just won’t slow down

Date Posted: 2011-04-21

Life is not good for Japan’s Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, and not good for his ruling Democratic Party of Japan, either.

Sunday elections across Japan, a little less than five weeks after the massive earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan, did nothing to allay fears from the general public about the administration’s abilities to handle the countries problems. The Democratic Party of Japan suffered losses in all three gubernatorial elections in Hokkaido, Mie and Tokyo Prefectures. It also lost a key mayoral race in Hiroshima while being shortchanged in polling for prefecture assembly seats.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who’s trying to cope with the massive loss of life in the March 11th 9.0 magnitude earthquake that has more than 13,000 confirmed dead and another 14,000 missing and presumed dead, and a nuclear reactor plant that is still far from contained, is facing a political crisis. The opposition Liberal Democratic Party won big in the election and LDP officials are licking their lips at prospects of overpowering the ruling party in the next round of elections.

DPJ officials are trying to downplay the severity of the losses, with Secretary-General Katsuya Okada saying “we canno0t afford to be caught in too much discussion, and the results won’t affect us.” He blamed the political failures upon “the government and ruling party having to put emphasis on how to respond to the March 11th disaster.” Kan’s party swept in to power in August 2009, but already has seen power reversals in the July 2010 House of Representatives election.

Kan was under strong pressure to resign in early March, his opponents—and some fellow DPJ politicians—fearful his handling of everything from the economy to the U.S. military bases issues in Okinawa, would rub off onto their reelection chances. The March 11th earthquake has diverted attention from the resignation demands, but the DPJ is worried.

The DPJ managed to win only one of four mayoral elections Sunday, winning in Sapporo but losing critical Hiroshima. Nine incumbents won in gubernatorial elections, with nuclear power policies at the heart of their campaigns in Fukui, Tottori, Shimane, Tokushima, Saga and Oita Prefectures. Tokyo’s fiery governor supported by the LDP, Shintaro Ishihara, won an easy victory over challengers backed by the DPJ.

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