Tokyo Notes

No New Year Sunrise for Kan

It has been a tough year for Naoto Kan and his ruling DPJ. Things don’t look likely to improve anytime soon.

While many Japanese still follow the tradition of watching the first sunrise of the New Year, one thing they won’t be seeing on New Year’s Day is a new coalition government including the Sunrise Party of Japan. Today the tiny party of elderly conservatives told reporters they wouldn’t be joining the ruling coalition after recent overtures by the Democratic Party of Japan.

Had the six-Diet member Sunrise Party joined forces with the DPJ-led coalition government, Prime Minister Naoto Kan would have been within three votes of a critical two-thirds majority in the lower house of Japan’s parliament. This is the figure needed for the administration to bulldoze legislation through the Diet even if it’s rejected by the upper house, which is currently controlled by the opposition. While the proposed coalition wouldn’t have given Kan the means to unlock the current legislative stalemate, it would have come as a welcome boost to his flagging fortunes and brought his administration within touching distance of some much needed political stability.

Still, the parties would have been odd bedfellows. About the only common ground held by Kan and the Sunrise Party is the need for major reform of tax and social security to help balance the budget. But while Kaoru Yosano, joint leader of the Sunrise Party, seemed keen to go ahead with an alliance, his fellow septuagenarians were clearly against the idea of associating themselves within an increasingly troubled administration.

This will add to the long list of disappointments and concerns that will be weighing on Kan’s mind over the holiday period.

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Today, DPJ top brass had also been scheduled to meet to discuss what to do with Shadow Shogun Ichiro Ozawa, who is defiantly refusing to explain a funding scandal to the Diet, despite requests to do so by his own party’s leadership. Ozawa claims that media focus on him as the bad guy is unfair since the DPJ’s main problems can’t all be attributed to him. After all, he’s no longer running the show, right?

Following more failed mediations to resolve the issue at the weekend, chief cabinet spokesman and diehard Ozawa opponent Yoshito Sengoku ratcheted up the tension by suggesting that Ozawa should leave the DPJ once he is indicted, as is scheduled to happen in the coming year.

It’s hard to see a tidy solution to this issue, since the DPJ leadership’s attempts to get him to talk to the Diet should have been made much earlier. Now, having belatedly started to address the issue, they will have to take some action against Ozawa or else they will be seen to have backed down.

Meanwhile, the 2011 budget draft agreed by the cabinet on Friday, hardly gives the impression that Kan has stamped his personality on his administration. For all the talk of fiscal consolidation and reining in of debt issuance, the proposed budget stands at a record 92.4 trillion yen with anticipated new bond issuance of 44.3 trillion yen (again in excess of tax revenues). Since these figures are almost exactly the same as last year, the budget isn’t likely to inspire gasps of amazement at its radical nature. It’s more a case of spot the difference…

Adding to Kan’s woes are the latest Kyodo News poll ratings, which show his cabinet now has a disapproval rating of 67 percent.

All in all, it looks set to be anything but a Happy New Year for the prime minister.