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Japan starts countdown to PM Kan's departure

08-10-2011 15:17 BJT

TOKYO - Japan's ruling Democratic Party aims to hold a leadership contest to replace unpopular Prime Minister Naoto Kan as early as August 28, Japanese media reported on Wednesday, setting the stage for the country's sixth premier since 2006.

Kan, who took office in June 2010, is under fire for his handling of the country's nuclear crisis, and naming the date may be a sign that the party is putting more pressure on him to go.

Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who favours paying for bulging social security costs by raising the 5 percent sales tax, and like Kan sees reining in ballooning public debt as policy priority, is mooted as a leading contender.

With voter ratings well below 20 percent, Kan has said he will hand over the reins to his Democratic Party's younger generation. But he has not specified when, frustrating many in his party who hope changing leaders will help shore up the party's sagging popularity ratings.

The Democrats swept to power in 2009 riding a wave of voter discontent and hunger for change after half a century of nearly uninterrupted rule by the Liberal Democratic Party. But they struggled to fulfil several campaign pledges including a promise to shore up the economy by supporting household spending, and halfway through their term they trail the opposition.

Three conditions

Kan has set three conditions for keeping his pledge to resign. One of those conditions, the enactment of an extra budget to help fund recovery from the massive March earthquake and tsunami, has already been met.

A second condition - passing a bill allowing the government to borrow more to fund this year's $1 trillion budget - also looks likely to be met by the end of the month after the Democrats agreed on Tuesday to rethink key campaign spending pledges as demanded by opposition parties in return for passage of the legislation.

The funding bill was expected to be approved by a committee in parliament's lower house on Wednesday, clearing the way for passage by the full chamber the following day and the upper house later this month, media said.

Kan, who is advocating Japan wean itself from reliance on nuclear power, also wants parliament to pass a law promoting renewable sources of energy such as solar power before quitting.

Some analysts have expressed hope that replacing Kan, whose policy flip-flops and abrasive personality have irked both ruling and opposition lawmakers, would allow smoother cooperation in Japan's divided parliament, where the opposition controls the upper house and can block legislation.

Others are pessimistic about any breakthroughs as Japan struggles with debt, a fast-ageing population, rebuilding from the March disasters and drawing up a new energy policy in the wake of the nuclear crisis.

Editor:Yang Jie |Source: China Daily

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