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Why Japan's Prime Minister Kan survived ouster bid

Prime Minister Naoto Kan offered to resign once he has brought the crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant under control. The power play in parliament has gone over poorly with the public.

By Correspondent / June 2, 2011

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan speaks during a news conference at his official residence in Tokyo, on Thursday, June 2. Prime Minister Kan defeated a no-confidence motion Thursday over his handling of Japan's triple disasters, but the victory may be short lived, he said he is willing to resign once the country's recovery kicks in.

Koji Sasahara/AP

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Tokyo

Japan’s prime minister, Naoto Kan, has lived to fight another day by offering to resign as soon as he has placed the country on the road to recovery from the March 11 tsunami and resulting nuclear crisis.

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On a day of political drama that presented an unprecedented challenge to his leadership, MPs in the 480-seat lower house of parliament defeated a no-confidence motion against Mr. Kan by 293 votes to 152. Earlier in the day, it appeared that opposition parties were coming close to securing the support of about 80 members of Kan’s Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) they needed to force him to resign or call a general election.

Though the attempted coup, spearheaded by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and supported by Kan’s DPJ nemeses, was defused after he offered to step down at an as yet unspecified date, experts say the nation may not be impressed.

“I think the nation is aghast at this brazen bun fight at a time when politicians should be earning their money by tackling the tough issues Japan faces. Japanese politics looks like a slow motion train wreck and the crisis will persist,” says Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University in Tokyo.

In an address to party MPs, Kan insisted he still had work to do overseeing the reconstruction of the ruined northeast coast and bringing the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to a satisfactory conclusion, a process that could continue until at least January.

“The nuclear crisis is ongoing, and I will make my utmost efforts to end it and move forward with post-quake reconstruction work,” said Kan, Japan’s fifth leader in four years. Then, in a thinly veiled rebuke to the political establishment, he suggested it was time the old guard retreated to the shadows once his time is up.

“I would like the younger generation to take over various responsibilities once I have finished fulfilling certain roles as a I work on handling the disaster,” he said.

Buying time

Kan’s 11th-hour attempt to prolong his political life appears to have worked.

On Thursday evening, his predecessor, Yukio Hatoyama, a Kan critic who also withdrew his support for the motion, suggested his resignation was imminent. “Waiting until the summer would be too long,” he told NHK television, but he added that he thought Kan’s departure should come after progress was made on a second disaster budget.

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