Yesterday, we reported that the opposition LDP along with "rebel" factions of the JDP, led by Ichiro Ozawara, planned to bring a vote of no confidence against Prime Minister Naoto Kan. The motion was raised and once the vote was held, Kan survived, but only amidst promises that he will resign this autumn once he has brought the country's current crisis under control.
In the end, all but two JDP members voted against the motion and the "leader" of the "rebel" JDP faction, Ozawa, abstained from voting. The choice to offer up his own resignation as an olive branch was a smart move on Kan's part, and when I say "smart", I don't mean in terms of political maneuvering, I mean it in terms of what is best for the country. Even after surviving this first vote of no confidence, chances were slim that he could have survived another, not with such dissent in his own party and a powerful opposition party that blocks him at every turn. But the offer of resignation will at least keep the JDP from splitting up and causing even more political maneuvering as the coalitions try to realign themselves when they should really be spending their time and energy on pulling Japan out of its current crisis.
It's to be expected that members of the opposing party will do all that they can to, well, oppose the ruling faction. But it's the rabble-rousing in Kan's own JDP, led by Ozawa, that really gets me. No matter how you look at it, this no confidence vote and the politics that surround it are nothing more than an opportunistic power grab. The sponsors of the motion said that they were raising the vote of no confidence because they were dissatisfied with the way the PM has been handling the current crisis. If that were so, then why would they be mollified with an offer to resign after the current crisis has been dealt with? Regardless of whether the recent indictment against Ozawa in a funding scandal was political maneuvering or the honest truth, he and his followers in the JDP are using the chaos and discord of the current crisis to make a grab for power and are further destabilizing an already weak government at a time when the country can ill afford such distractions.
In fact, even this unsuccessful no confidence vote sent the Nikkei reeling and added an air of futility to Kan's current diplomatic talks with factions in Vietnam. If you're unsure whether the current PM is going to be leading the country next week, why would you bother to negotiate seriously with him?
Once Kan resigns, he will be the fifth Prime Minister to enter and leave the office in as many years. I can't even name most of them since Koizumi. I know there was Abe and some guy people were putting on posters, and that's about it. If you can name them, you either live in Japan, or are a true scholar of Japanese politics.
With a job turnover rate higher than most McDonald's, the office of Japan's Prime Minister has been all but castrated by political infighting. It takes time to develop diplomatic relationships--time that most Japanese PMs don't get. It is anecdotally reported that Bill Clinton once stabbed himself in the leg with a fork in an effort to stay awake during a fledging PM's dinner-time diatribe about the unique diplomatic vicissitudes of Japan-- not because he wasn't interested, but because he had already heard the same speech several times from other PMs. (In case you were wondering, there were six different PMs during Clinton's term as President.)
I'm all for change if the government isn't working how it's supposed to. But beaurecratic and logistic reforms would do much more to help the Japanese constituency during this crisis than splitting up the JDP and replacing the Prime Minister. Infighting at the upper levels will only serve to present a muddied political message that will weaken Japan's international presence at a time when they need to have strong international relations; to receive aid, to prevent devaluation of the currency, to settle nuclear fears.