Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Friday announced his resignation, ending a 15-month tenure defined by crisis and opening the door for this country’s seventh leader since 2006.
Kan’s decision to step down, coming after months of criticism over his government’s response to the disaster reconstruction and the nuclear emergency, turns the attention to Kan’s successor — to be determined in a ruling party election Monday.
Japan’s next prime minister will inherit all of the problems that Kan struggled to handle. Even before the March 11 disaster, Japan was dealing with a soaring debt, a stagnating economy and a shrinking population. Now, dealing with its biggest crisis since World War II, Japan also faces critical decisions about energy policy, nuclear reform, and the viable reconstruction of its northeastern coastline.
Kan had hinted three months ago that he would step down once Japan’s parliament had passed three final bills, and Friday the final two — one related to renewable energy; another related to the approval of new bonds — were finally passed.
“Under the severe circumstances, I feel like I’ve done everything that I had to do,” Kan said, according to the AP. “Now I would like to see you choose someone respectable as the new prime minister.”
The ruling Democratic Party of Japan will hold its presidential election on Monday, picking from as many as nine candidates, according to the Yomiuri newspaper. The frontrunners include former foreign minister Seiji Maehara, industry minister Banri Kaieda, finance minister Yoshihiko Noda.
Kan took over in June 2010 replacing the unpopular Yukio Hatoyama, but Kan himself squandered popularity within weeks, facing criticism for his flip-flopping over a possible consumption tax raise.
At the time of the March 11 9.0-magnitude earthquake, Kan was days away from stepping down. But the disaster, and the short-lived political cooperation that ensued, gave him a second chance.
Post-disaster, the former activist emerged as a sharp critic of Japan’s powerful nuclear industry, which long enjoyed a cozy relationship with the government agency designed to regulate it.
In July, Kan told the nation he was in favor of a nuclear phase-out — meaning Japan should eventually shut down all of its 54 reactors. But even with a majority of the country favoring such a policy, Kan was unable to translate his opinion into popularity. Fellow lawmakers blasted him for speaking his mind without consulting others. And in the meantime, the government at large struggled to convey understandable and timely information about the unfolding nuclear crisis.