Tokyo Notes

No Downtime for PM Kan

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Tokyo Notes

No Downtime for PM Kan

The rising yen, economy, Futenma issue, China… Naoto Kan hasn’t got the time to relax.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan may have won the ruling party leadership battle comfortably in the end, but this is no time for him to relax. With an array of hazards lined up in front of him, the work to secure his premiership may only just have begun.

While party unity might be his most immediate concern, there’s still plenty of potential disaster waiting for him in the form of the rising yen, the economy, the Futenma airbase relocation, relations with China and the divided Diet.

While his 721-491 margin of victory in the Democratic Party of Japan presidential election looks more impressive than most had imagined, as mentioned yesterday, when it comes down to the level of Diet members, 200 of the DPJ’s tally of 411 parliamentarians voted for his opponent. That’s almost half the DPJ’s parliamentary representatives who thought Kan should have been ditched as leader after only three months.

So Kan must quickly decide how to win back the support of defeated opponent Ichiro Ozawa and his group. The position of DPJ general secretary is likely to be the key decision. It would be difficult to give that position back to Ozawa, who stood down in June, but he could offer it to a member of Ozawa’s group. This would also see Ozawa-critic Yukio Edano pushed out of the position and finally taking some heat for the DPJ’s poor showing in July’s upper house election. Edano might also be more useful to Kan as a cabinet member anyway since he impressed as the minister in charge of government revitalization earlier in the year.

Surely the possibility of continuing to keep Ozawa at arm’s length, as he has tried to do over the last three months, cannot continue if Kan is to reunite the party and prevent the risk of Ozawa doing what he has always done in the past—leave and destroy. Ozawa may well be less likely to bolt from the party this time, though, since his supporters may find it less appetizing to follow their shadow shogun when they already are in power as opposed to being just another opposition force.

The fact that Kan did not have these key personnel decisions already sorted out is a cause for concern, however. The DPJ has been gazing at its navel for weeks now while the yen continues to climb and other pressing issues are left to one side. While it’s commendable that Kan wants to run the party with more democratic consultation, isn’t it about time he got on with running the country?

When the yen hit a high against the dollar of 82.80 this morning, the government finally intervened in the market for the first time in 6 years. That was at least an encouraging sign—that the Kan administration may actually start tackling pending issues now that the DPJ contest is out of the way.

But there are a lot of issues, such as the state of the economy. Kan has said it’s all about ‘jobs, jobs, jobs,’ which is all well and good, but what precisely is he going to do to create jobs? Will Friday’s 900 billion yen stimulus package really be enough to create the 200,000 jobs Kan has promised and to boost growth? While better than nothing, it still seems like a drop in the ocean. Again it remains to be seen how on earth Kan can achieve his twin goals of employment-generating economic growth and fiscal consolidation.

And the list goes on. Will Kan be able to avoid more trouble over the Futenma airbase relocation given the timing of the Okinawan gubernatorial election in November when US President Barack Obama is due to visit Japan? Can he get joint gas field exploration talks back on track after the recent spat over the arrest of Chinese fishing ship captain?

And will Kan, in fact, be able to get any significant legislation passed in the divided Diet? Not if the Liberal Democratic Party can help it. Its response to yesterday’s election result was again to demand a snap general election—a call we’re going to keep hearing as often as we did when the DPJ were in opposition. It’s a sign that cooperation even on issues that both parties agree on may not be forthcoming.

In other words, now is not the time for Kan to be congratulating himself on retaining the premiership. Instead, it’s time for him to start showing he actually deserves it.