The 2011 Tōhoku Earthquake
Prime Minister Naoto Kan officially announced Friday he will resign after 15 turbulent months in office during which the nation experienced its greatest postwar disaster and one of the world’s worst nuclear crises.
Kan’s resignation both as prime minister and as president of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan came the same day the Diet passed two key bills he had set as a precondition for his exit.
The DPJ plans to hold an election Monday to pick a new president, who would be subsequently installed as prime minister possibly as early as Tuesday.
“As of today, I would like to step down as DPJ president . . . and once a new leader is chosen, I will immediately resign as prime minister,” Kan told a party meeting Friday afternoon. “There were difficult moments and some harsh criticism, but I am truly grateful for everyone’s support.”
Earlier Friday, the Diet passed a bill to issue deficit-covering bonds to finance a large portion of the initial fiscal 2011 budget and another to promote the use of renewable energy — the two pieces of legislation Kan was adamant had to be passed.
Kan, the fifth prime minister since 2006, had a difficult ride during his 15 months in office. He was besieged by the opposition camp, which he tried to include in his administration after the March 11 calamity, to no avail, as well as by elements within the DPJ, in large part because he tried to distance his administration from indicted DPJ kingpin Ichiro Ozawa.
Kan became prime minister in June 2010 after his predecessor, Yukio Hatoyama, resigned after failing to fulfill his pledge to relocate a U.S. base outside Okinawa and amid revelations that he received illicit political donations from his tycoon heiress mother. Ozawa left as DPJ secretary general at the same time amid his own funds scandal.
Kan initially enjoyed high public support rates. But his popularity fell after he showed willingness to raise the consumption tax from 5 to 10 percent during the campaign for the Upper House election in July last year, and the DPJ-led bloc subsequently lost its majority in the chamber.
Amid the divided Diet, Kan and the DPJ struggled to enact state-sponsored legislation, including the special bond-issuance bill that took more than six months to clear the Lower House.
Despite the setbacks, Kan pursued new goals, including joining talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership regional free-trade pact and, after the March 11 disasters sparked the Fukushima nuclear crisis, cutting Japan’s dependence on atomic power.
But many of Kan’s proposals did not win out, and pundits criticized his goal-setting as “just talking off the top of his head.”
Kan, however, expressed satisfaction Friday when reflecting on his time at the helm, which included the biggest Self-Defense Forces mobilization in history, a massive U.S. military response and a global outpouring of solidarity and relief aid in response to the Tohoku catastrophe.
“I feel I did what I needed to do under such demanding conditions,” Kan said Friday.
“It may be because I am an optimist, but I think I did all I could, given the circumstances.”
By Suvendrini KakuchiINTERPRESS NEWS SERVICETOKYO, Aug 4, 2011 (IPS) – Matashichi Oishi, 78, a radiation victim from Bikini Atoll, the site of a U.S. hydrogen bomb test in 1954, will make his annual lone visit this week to commemorate the Aug. 6 anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima 66 years ago.This year, says the former sailor, battling lung cancer from exposure to high levels of radiation at Bikini Atoll, his message at Hiroshima will go beyond a routine call to end nuclear weapons.
“Against the backdrop of the disastrous Fukushima nuclear plant accident, I will speak of the absolute need for Japan to not only work to ban nuclear weapons but also to completely eradicate dependence on nuclear energy,” he told IPS.
Oishi’s planned speech echoes the emergence of nuclear energy as an equal threat to peace. It gains credence from the massive earthquake and tsunami that hit Fukushima and the northeast coasts of Japan on Mar. 11, severely damaging the nuclear plant located there.
Hiroshima became the world’s first atom-bombed city when the United Stated dropped a uranium bomb that exploded and killed almost its entire population instantly in 1945.
The atomic bombing anniversary has long made Hiroshima and Nagasaki city, that was similarly devastated within three days, potent symbols of world peace. The cities are unrivalled leaders in the nuclear disarmament movement.
Like Oishi, the thousands of peace activists, officials and politicians who will rally at Hiroshima to declare their commitment towards a world without nuclear weapons, will also call for a ban on nuclear energy.
A press release by the Mayor of Hiroshima, Kazumi Matsui and his Nagasaki counterpart, Tomihisa Taue, makes the agenda clear.
Drafts of their speeches, released to the media, refer to the catastrophe faced by the people in Fukushima, and appeal to the government to promote renewable energy sources.
Matsui is quoted in the Japanese press as saying: “The central government should take responsibility to deal with the nuclear power generation issue.”
Indeed, Oishi points out that a ban on nuclear power has been his lonely cry for the last six decades. He was 19 years old and sailing on a tuna boat when the U.S. carried out the bomb test that radiated his crew and forced the massive evacuation of residents from the surrounding islands.
The incident created an uproar in Japan, but given the political sensitivity at that time – the Cold War and a race to develop nuclear weapons development between the former Soviet Union and the U.S. – Oishi and his colleagues were forced to abandon the pursuit of justice.
Fourteen of the 23 Japanese crew on board the ‘Lucky Dragon’ contracted cancer, and ten died of it.
For Ayako Ooga, who lives in a temporary shelter in Aizu, 150 km from the damaged reactors in Fukushima, her former home, the upcoming Hiroshima anniversary is a time for solidarity.
“We must join hands with other victims like Oishi because we ourselves have become radiation victims,” she said.
Prof. Michiji Konuma, who heads the Japan-based World Peace Appeal group, explained that the Fukushima disaster has reinforced the importance of raising public awareness about the dark side of nuclear energy.
Konuma, a physicist, has long campaigned to highlight the risks to human health posed by radiation. To him, the sobering lesson of Fukushima is that it is the fourth nuclear disaster to hit the Japanese people, counting Bikini Island, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
“The human tragedy of the past disaster that included fatalities, cancer and other radiation induced diseases, as well as the widespread discrimination faced by the survivors, illustrate the hidden and lingering problems of nuclear power,” he said.
“We must sustain the awareness raised by Fukushima and speak out about the dangers we face if we continue to pursue nuclear energy,” he added.
Konuma represents a panel of intellectuals in Japan that issued a notice to the government in July, calling for a shift away from dependence on nuclear energy.
The group is also spearheading a public movement to bring in a long-needed debate on the safety aspects of nuclear power in Japan with the aim of creating deeper understanding at the citizen level.
“The difficult aspect of sustaining an anti-nuclear energy public mood can only be met if more stakeholders – from intellectuals to radiation victims – get together. We must not repeat the mistake of forgetting again,” he said.
Oishi agrees. “My own story shows how lonely the struggle is in Japan to get the authorities to listen to victims who stay silent for fear of being discriminated against,” he said. (END)