Kan’s survival

Japanese PM Naoto Kan survived the no-confidence motion against him in the House of Representatives.

To pass and compel Kan’s resignation (and probably early elections), the measure would have required a significant rupture in Kan’s own Democratic Party of Japan, which has a majority won in 2009. In the end, only a few of the threatened defections materialized, thanks to a last-minute meeting between Kan and his intra-party rivals, including the DPJ’s first post-election PM, Yukio Hatoyama.

One of the agreements stemming from the meeting is that Kan eventually will resign, supposedly as soon as the post-disaster situation is stabilized.

It is striking the extent to which Japan continues to face party leadership instability, in spite of the 1993 electoral reform that eliminated the old factional competition in elections (the single non-transferable vote). Other than Junichiro Koizumi (of the now-opposition but long-ruling Liberal Democrats), the Japanese premiership continues to be a precarious position.

3 thoughts on “Kan’s survival

  1. Is it usual for rebels in a majority party to try to force out their leader by crossing the floor in the legislature, if they don’t have a majority in the party/ caucus room?

    I’m thinking of Churchill vice Chamberlain in 1940, but are there [m]any other cases?

  2. Prime Minister of Australia John Gorton resigned in 1972 under threat of Coalition members crossing the floor to vote with Labor, although only after losing a caucus vote that tied and where he used the casting vote against himself.

  3. The failed no-confidence motion and Kan’s announcement of his planned resignation form part of an interesting and dramatic sequence of events.

    How did we get to this point? First, Kan’s lack of popularity no doubt worries many Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) MPs. An April Pew survey showed only 20% of Japanese thought the government did a good job in responding to the triple disasters (earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis). Cabinet support levels are low, and have dropped since the March 11 earthquake. A majority of the public approved of his announced plan to resign. But, the DPJ do not have to call a House of Representatives election until August 2013, and the next House of Councilors election isn’t until July 2013. So, even though, predictably, the most electorally vulnerable MPs were more likely to want Kan out, there is plenty of time before an electoral reckoning.

    Second, Kan’s early popularity (the second half of 2010) came in part from his distancing himself from the unpopular party power broken Ichiro Ozawa. Ozawa is a master electoral tactician, and many of the newly elected MPs (in August 2009) felt indebted to Ozawa, or were counting on him to help them win again in the next election, or both. Ozawa precipitated the crisis by indicating he might support the opposition no-confidence motion. Media reports had more than 50 DPJ DM “close” to Ozawa planning to support the motion. Former PM Hatoyama also seemed to throw his weight behind it. Ozawa presumably felt sure he could muster the numbers, but former PM Hatoyama held a last minute meeting with PM Kan and brokered a deal: a vote against the no-confidence motion in exchange for Kan’s agreeing to step down voluntarily “soon.” Once Hatoyama announced this and that he would vote against the motion, everything unravelled quickly for the rebels.

    Where to from here? Besides the weighty policy matters, such as the supplemental budget for the recovery, increasing the consumption tax to balance Japan’s parlous finances, etc, there are a few interesting party politics issues.

    Party discipline: The DPJ had announced it would expel anyone voting for the motion, or abstaining. Ozawa didn’t show up for the vote. WIll he be disciplined?

    Next PM: Kan’s been in office for a year. That’s actually a long time for recent Japanese PMs. Who will replace him? The DPJ wants someone popular to lead them into the next election. That person might be 3 PMs away, of course, but they still have to put someone in office whenever Kan quits (he said “when a certain level of progress is made” but the public seems to think that means cleaning up the Fukushima nuke plant, not reconstructing the Tohoku region). Media reports have Seiji Maehara in the lead. He has a record of quitting at the first sign of trouble, so may not last until 2013. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano is popular now, thanks to a perceived steady hand during the crisis and his frequent appearances on TV then, so the party may want to wait to elect him.

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