TOKYO, June 16 (Reuters) – Japan’s main opposition party submitted a symbolic no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s cabinet on Wednesday as Kan looked set to rush into a national election to capitalise on a jump in ratings.
The ruling Democratic Party of Japan’s (DPJ) support rates have bounced since Kan took over from his unpopular predecessor Yukio Hatoyama last week, improving the party’s chances in a likely July 11 vote for parliament’s upper house.
The DPJ will stay in power regardless of the election outcome given its majority in the lower house, but the party needs to win in the upper chamber to forge ahead smoothly with policies to cut the country’s huge public debt. [ID:nSGE65D0BK]
Graphic on voter intentions link.reuters.com/jev83j
Graphic on voter support r.reuters.com/myv63g
For possible election scenarios, click [ID:nTOE65F00Z]
Lambasting the DPJ for not extending the current session of parliament after the abrupt leadership change, the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) handed in a motion of no-confidence against the cabinet on the last day of debate.
But the move was largely symbolic, since opposition parties are outnumbered by the ruling bloc in the powerful lower chamber. Opposition parties also submitted non-binding censure motions against Kan and a cabinet minister to the upper house.
“If debate took place, their (the Democrats’) support rate would fall,” Jiro Kawasaki, an LDP executive in charge of parliamentary affairs, told reporters.
“Prime Minister Kan is clearly running away.”
Kan, Japan’s fifth premier in three years, has rejected calls for an extended parliament session, listening instead to DPJ lawmakers who want an election as soon as possible.
Media polls show support for Kan’s cabinet at around 60 percent, a jump from around 20 percent during Hatoyama’s final days in office. [ID:nTOE65903N]
Kan has revamped the DPJ’s image among voters, tapping policy experts for key cabinet posts and distancing himself from a scandal-tainted party kingpin who was seen as pulling the strings in Hatoyama’s government.
“Former prime minister Hatoyama had no heart. He had no ability to judge the situation properly so it all ended in disaster,” said retiree Kyoko Suiguchi, 65.
“I’ll be voting for Kan’s (party) because they really know what they’re doing.”
But while the leadership change has improved the DPJ’s election chances, it remains unclear if the party can win an outright majority and avoid policy deadlock as it tries to strengthen an economic recovery and fix tattered public finances.
Fiscal problems in Europe and growing market concerns about sovereign debt risk have prompted Kan to make tackling Japan’s public debt — now near twice the size of GDP — a top priority.
If the Democrats fail to win a majority, it would need to maintain its current coalition with the tiny, pro-spending People’s New Party (PNP), or seek help from other allies to pass bills, complicating policy making.
“There is still a month before the election so the Democrats’ ratings could well cool by then,” said Mikitaka Masuyama, a professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies.
“It’s likely that no party wins a majority and there will be a lot of political jockeying after the election to pull together groups for a majority,” Masuyama said.
(Additional reporting by Linda Sieg; Editing by Paul Tait)