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Japan's PM Naoto Kan survives no-confidence vote over handling of nuclear crisis

However, his success today may be short-lived, as he has pledged to resign once Japan’s recovery is on track.

Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan today in Tokyo.
Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan today in Tokyo.
Image: AP Photo/Koji Sasahara

JAPAN’S PRIME Minister Naoto Kan defeated a no-confidence motion today 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 takes hold.

Buying himself some time and warding off a challenge that threatened to split his party and send Japan’s government into a deeper morass, Kan won by a margin of 293-152 in the 480-seat lower house of parliament.

Kan, in office just one year, had been criticised for not responding swiftly enough to the crisis caused by the March 11 earthquake and massive tsunami that left more than 24,000 people dead or missing. The tsunami also crippled a nuclear power plant northeast of Tokyo, setting off radiation leaks and the evacuation of tens of thousands of people.

Disaster

The disaster — believed to be the costliest in history — has been a huge drain on Japan’s long-stagnant economy. The head of the nuclear plant’s operator already has resigned in disgrace, largely over criticism the utility did not adequately prepare for a large tsunami.

Before Thursday’s parliamentary session, Kan urged lawmakers to let him stay and push ahead with measures to bring the country through the crisis, but in a nod to his many critics, he acknowledged “shortcomings” and said he would consider stepping down after the recovery firms up.

“Once the post-quake reconstruction efforts are settled, I will pass on my responsibility to younger generations,” he said. “The nuclear crisis is ongoing, and I will make my utmost efforts to end the crisis and move forward with post-quake reconstruction works.”

Kan has been criticised for delays in the construction of temporary housing and a lack of transparency about evacuation information in the nuclear crisis. His government is also embroiled in a debate about compensation for victims.

Japan’s government has said the cost of the earthquake and tsunami could reach $309 billion, with extensive damage to housing, roads, utilities and businesses. Japan’s ballooning debt is already twice the size of the country’s gross domestic product.

Kan did not specify a date or say how he would determine that the recovery was on track.

At a news conference late Thursday, Kan hinted he may stay until the crippled reactors reach “a cold and stable shutdown” and stop leaking radiation, which their operator plans to achieve by January.

He thanked his party members for helping him survive the motion, and urged opposition lawmakers to cooperate in the effort to tackle the reconstruction and the nuclear crisis. Opponents have demanded he quit immediately, saying Japan cannot afford a lame-duck administration.

“If you are going to quit, quit now,” senior opposition lawmaker Tadamori Oshima told Kan over a chorus of cheers and jeers in the parliament chamber. The main opposition group, the Liberal Democratic Party, introduced the no-confidence motion Wednesday along with two other opposition groups.

March’s magnitude 9.0 quake and the massive tsunami that followed damaged the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, causing the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986. About 80,000 residents have been forced to evacuate towns contaminated by the radiation-leaking plant.

Kan’s fortunes were sagging even before the crisis began, but have plummeted since.

- AP

Read: Japan underestimated tsunami risk to nuclear plant, says UN watchdog >

Read: Japan asks office workers to shed their suits and save energy >

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