Naoto Kan Breaks the Mould

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Mould Kan

Tokyo -- In his short premiership, Naoto Kan has already bucked the usual pattern for Japanese prime ministers in the post-Koizumi era.

The usual pattern in recent years has been that a prime minister begins with reasonably high public approval when he takes over, and then steadily loses popularity until he is forced to resign. The whole process took a year or less with Shinzo Abe, Yasuo Fukuda, Taro Aso, and Yukio Hatoyama.

However, a new Kyodo News poll released today shows the Kan administration enjoying a 64.4% approval rating, which is actually higher than the 61.5% approval that Kyodo recorded at the beginning of June when Kan took over.

In his mere three months in office, Naoto Kan has been on a virtual rollercoaster ride with the public: Initial high support gave way to a tailspin caused by the prime minister's statements on the consumption tax.

While at the low ebb, the DPJ lost many seats in the July House of Councillors election. But rather than stepping aside - as has unfailingly been the case in the past of prime ministers who have led their party to electoral defeats - Kan stayed on and then saw a nearly miraculous recovery due to his unmistakable virtue of not being named Ichiro Ozawa.

Looking back at these three months, one can already see that Kan does have a propensity to take political gambles.

His first one - on the consumption tax issue - was a big loser, and it cost his party dearly. The DPJ still must find a way to deal with the potential parliamentary stalemate that they will soon face.

His second major gamble - to marginalize Ichiro Ozawa and his legions of young supporters within the party - has started well enough, but time will tell if it pays off in the long run.

The Kan administration's anti-Ozawa line did not cost them the leadership of the party this week, and it has gained them broad support among the general public, which itself has come to loathe Ozawa. (Ozawa's supporters argue that the media and the bureaucracy is fanning these popular flames, and we agree, but our point here is that the anti-Ozawa campaign has been quite effective.)

It would be unwise to predict at this point whether or not Naoto Kan will ultimately be judged a success or a failure as a national leader, but it is already apparent that the Kan Phenomenon is something quite different from his four immediate predecessors.

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