- - Thursday, June 2, 2011

TOKYO — Japan’s prime minister survived a no-confidence vote in his party Thursday after he made a vague promise to step down once he fulfills his role to “overcome” the country’s post-tsunami crisis.

Naoto Kan kept his leadership position and fended off a challenge to divide the ruling Democratic Party in a 152-93 vote in the 480-member lower house of parliament.

“Once my handling of the earthquake disaster is settled to some extent and I have fulfilled my role to some extent, I would like younger generations to take over my various responsibilities,” Mr. Kan, 64, told a gathering of Democratic Party members before the vote.

He offered no specific timetable for when he might resign, and his party commands a comfortable majority in the lower house.

In office for nearly a year, he has been criticized for his administration’s response to the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that crippled the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.

The nuclear dilemma is the world’s worst since the 1986 Chernobyl accident and Japan’s worst crisis since World War II.

Mr. Kan previously has said that temporary housing for about 100,000 tsunami victims would be finished by mid-August, and a cold shutdown of the damaged nuclear reactors in Fukushima should be achieved by January.

Known for straight talk and singular determination rather than consensus building, Mr. Kan’s efforts to tackle the tsunami and nuclear disasters have met resistance from entrenched bureaucrats and some local leaders aligned with rival factions.

The confidence vote was seen as a victory for reform-minded leaders such as Mr. Kan and his party’s secretary-general, Katsuya Okada, whose threat to expel dissenters appears to have maintained party discipline — for now.

It was a defeat for old-guard politicians, including kingmaker Ichiro Ozawa, former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and the opposition Liberal Democrats, who ruled Japan for most of the post-war period.

The winning side has called for a review of nuclear policy, more energy conservation and increased use of what Japanese call “natural energy,” such as solar, wind and geothermal sources for electricity.

The losing side has long promoted increased dependence on nuclear reactors and pork-barrel spending on construction projects such as tsunami walls.

The political infighting likely will continue in coming months, though opposition lawmakers already have used up their right to call one no-confidence vote per session of parliament, which is set to end June 22.

Opinion polls showed the majority of Japanese were against overthrowing the Kan administration in a time of crisis, even though Mr. Kan’s popularity ratings remain below 30 percent.

The Asahi Shimbun wrote in a recent editorial: “These parliamentary maneuvers are a sickening joke.”

Japan has had five prime ministers in the past five years, reflecting a lack of consistent leadership that has hampered attempts to deal with a stagnant economy, a shrinking population, ballooning debt and the nation’s disasters.

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