Tokyo Notes

Kan Handles First Crisis

Naoto Kan handles his first cabinet resignation adroitly. A good sign for the DPJ?

No doubt the last thing Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan wanted to see in his first week of office was a resignation letter from one of his cabinet ministers, let alone one from the leader of his junior coalition partner.

But with an understated adroitness, Japan’s new premier may have actually turned events surrounding the departure of postal reform minister Shizuka Kamei  to his advantage.

Kamei quit the cabinet Friday once it became clear that Kan had no intention of extending the current parliamentary session to get Kamei’s pet project postal reform bill passed. Since the departure of another of the Democratic Party of Japan’s coalition partners was one of the reasons given for last week’s resignation of Japan’s previous prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, Kamei’s exit from the cabinet had the potential of critically injuring the DPJ’s new leader before he’d even made his first Diet policy speech as prime minister.

But, despite the huffing and puffing of Kamei, Kan stood his ground. There’s a cool election logic to Kan’s position. After opinion polls this week indicated a huge resurgence of support for the DPJ following the departure of Hatoyama and 'shadow shogun' Ichiro Ozawa, Kan must surely want to get on with the upper house election that had been penciled in for July 11.

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If he’d extended the session to allow debate of a controversial bill put forward by Kamei’s New People’s Party, the DPJ would have been vulnerable to yet more criticism of being influenced excessively by a junior coalition partner.

But Kamei must have realized at some point in this play of brinkmanship that his only hope of getting his bill passed is to stay in the coalition with the DPJ. So he elected to quit his cabinet post but keep his party in the coalition with the proviso that his resurrected bill gets a quick hearing in an extra Diet session after the upper house election.

So while the development is far from ideal for the DPJ, the result is that Kamei looks like he has been put in his place, not the other way round. 

This could be a positive sign of what is to come from Japan’s new leader.