Japan’s centre-left ruling party (Democratic Party of Japan) had at the time of writing set a date to choose a new leader (Monday 29 August) to replace unpopular incumbent Naoto Kan as party president and therefore as prime minister. Kan, Japan’s fifth premier in five years, has been expected for weeks to announce his resignation amid fierce criticism over his response to the March 11 earthquake and tsunami disaster and the Fukushima nuclear crisis that followed. Since then Kan has strongly advocated a nuclear-free future for Japan, a position that has put him at loggerheads with the conservative opposition and some members of his own party.
However the election will only be held if a bill to promote renewable energy, which Kan has championed, is passed by parliament before that date, said DPJ secretary general Katsuya Okada. There are also plans now to establish a new independent atomic safety regulatory body.
The party’s decision follows the sackings early in August of the head of the Nuclear Industry and Safety Agency, Nobuaki Terasaka, the head of the natural resources and energy agency Tetsuhiro Hosono, and the vice-minister for economy, trade and industry, Kazuo Matsunaga.
At the time Japan's Trade and Industry minister Banri Kaieda was also planning to take his share of responsibility for the disatrous events that followed the tsunaki in March, and resign, but he did not give a date. It has now emerged that he has become a contender for the party leadership, and therefore the PM, but he is not the most popular candidate, which appears to be, according to the people’s vote at any rate, former foreign minister Seiji Maehara.
Whoever wins the premier’s job faces urgent challenges — chiefly to rebuild from Japan’s worst post-war disaster while keeping in check a public debt mountain that is already twice the size of the economy?
Six months after the ‘quake tens of thousands of people remain in evacuation centres because of the tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear disaster, which alone forced more than 80 000 people from their homes.