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Beleaguered Japanese Prime Minister to call it quits

Date Posted: 2011-06-09

Naoto Kan has lasted a few months longer than his predecessor as Japan’s Prime Minister, but is now on the way out.

Kan took the post just over a year ago from Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who resigned after serving less than a year. Kan has been under fire from all corners of the country over his handling of the March 11th Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plants disaster. Hatoyama, whose troubles as Prime Minister quickly escalated after campaign promises to rid Okinawa of Futenma Marine Corps Air Station fell apart and he backtracked, telling Okinawa it would have to continue bearing the burden of the U.S. air base as it moved to a new location in northern Okinawa.

Hatoyama has talked with Kan, and told NHK television ”It won’t be so distant,” predicting “the summer would be too long. It won’t be that long.” He said Kan promised to resign once an earthquake-tsunami reconstruction bill passes the Diet, and when there’s progress on putting together a second extra national budget. Kan only days ago survived a no-confidence motion in the House of Representatives, after offering to resign.

Kan is telling sources within his Democratic Party of Japan he will step down not later than in August, but DPJ leaders are pressing him to resign earlier to make it easier to have elections to select a new party president. Kan’s popularity has dropped, and his ability to lead the nation in the aftermath of the earthquake and nuclear reactor difficulties have put pressure on the DPJ.

Opposition lawmakers are demanding Kan step aside immediately. Secretaries general of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito want Kan gone before the end of June. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano says Kan’s tenure won’t last much longer, but will go beyond June. “His hope to hand over the government to a younger generation before long,” says Edano, “is very clear.” Edano hinted Kan will not attend the September Japan-U.S. Summit, a move that seemingly confirms the Prime Minister will step down in a matter of weeks.

Several names are emerging as likely candidates to succeed Kan as party leader and prime minister. Yoshihiko Noda, the 54-year-old Finance Minister, and Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku, 65, are thought to be two top contenders.

Sadakazu Tanigaki, the Liberal Democratic Party President, calls Kan’s refusal to step down immediately “not a graceful way for a top leader to quit. The LDP’s secretary general, Nobuteru Ishihara, says the party will press hard to have Kan gone this month.

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