Prime Minister Naoto Kan appears to be thinking about going ahead with dissolving the Lower House and calling a snap election around the issue of moving away from nuclear energy if a special measures bill to promote renewable energy sources does not pass the current Diet session.
He did not deny the possibility at a June 27 news conference.
It is easy to imagine that Kan is aspiring to do what former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi did in 2005 when he called a snap election to have voters decide on the pros and cons of postal privatization.
With the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co., there has been an increase in distrust of nuclear plants and a widening sympathy toward moving away from nuclear energy.
It would not be surprising if Kan felt the urge to place the renewable energy bill as a symbol of a move away from nuclear energy and if it did not pass the Diet, to take a page out of Koizumi's playbook and go before voters with the question of whether Japan should move away from nuclear energy. Kan may be aiming to break out of the political impasse he faces through such an election.
The manner in which energy policy is reviewed is an important theme. However, even if Kan desired to dissolve the Lower House around the issue of moving away from nuclear energy, it would bear no resemblance to the dissolution over postal privatization.
The most obvious difference is the tenacity with which the two prime ministers have dealt with passing their prized legislation.
Postal privatization was an issue long pushed by Koizumi. In September 2004, he named Heizo Takenaka, a Keio University economist, as state minister in charge of postal privatization and sought passage of legislation in the ordinary Diet session of 2005.
Liberal Democratic Party executives, such as Secretary-General Tsutomu Takebe, policy chief Kaoru Yosano and Fumio Kyuma, General Council chairman, were busy trying to limit resistance to the legislation within the party.
It took more than three months just to obtain Cabinet approval for the postal privatization legislation. Deliberations in the two chambers of the Diet totalled 190 hours and revisions were also made to the legislation.
Even after such efforts, the bills were defeated in the Upper House. Wanting a public judgement on that action, Koizumi dissolved the Lower House.
He also fielded so-called assassin candidates against those who had opposed the legislation while in the LDP. That tactic is still a target of criticism even today.
However, for Koizumi, dissolution of the Lower House was not an objective, but a method for passing the legislation through the Diet.
There continued to be deliberations in the Diet right up until the dissolution.
Turning to Kan, while he said promoting renewable energy sources was an urgent matter in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear accident, he only showed his eagerness to pass such legislation after he announced on June 2 that he intended to resign.
Discussions within the ruling Democratic Party of Japan have not kept pace and even party executives do not have the same desire to pass the legislation.
If Kan foresaw the possibility that the legislation would not pass due to confrontation between the ruling and opposition parties and he turned a Lower House dissolution over moving away from nuclear energy into an objective in its own right without sufficiently conducting deliberations in the Diet, there would be no doubt that Kan would be criticized for using the call to move away from nuclear energy as an excuse to extend his hold over government.
Having been criticized for clinging to his post, if deliberations do not deepen, what Kan should do, since he has in the past called for thorough Diet deliberations, is seek out continued discussions on the legislation and hand over passage to a younger generation of leaders.
One final thought: if Kan should dissolve the Lower House before the end of the Diet session, the Lower House election would be held in summer.
Some victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake will be forced to spend an unbearably hot summer at evacuation centers. There is also the danger of many parts of Japan falling into confusion with an electricity shortage.
If Kan does go ahead with a dissolution, he should be prepared to accept all criticism of possibly creating a new human disaster by delaying the measures that would be needed to help disaster victims.
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Akihisa Tsugawa is deputy editor of the Political News Section at The Asahi Shimbun Tokyo Head Office.
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